Ancient Christian customs for Christmas Eve
By Correspondent Radmila Aras in Belgrade, Serbia.
Christmas is the biggest Christian holiday which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.
According to historical data Christmas is officially celebrated from the year 336.
Catholic church and some Orthodox churches celebrate it on 25th of December, according to the Gregorian calendar, while Serbian Orthodox church celebrates Christmas according to the Julian calendar, on 7th of January. Christmas is preceded by Christmas Eve, Holy night when believers are awaiting the birth of Jesus Christ.
All Southern Slavs whether Catholic or Orthodox by tradition prepare Badnjak a day before Christmas day.
Badnjak is the name for a log which is ceremonially burned on the domestic hearth. In villages by custom, the male members of the family go into the forest in early morning before Christmas Eve to chop an oak tree branch. Christmas branch must not be hit by an ax more than three times and the chopped branch must fall to the East!
Badnjak log is formed from oak branch, straw and cornel branch- symbol of health.
Bringing the Christmas log Badnjak in the house symbolizes the coming of Jesus Christ in our homes.
By Christian believes the oak tree was brought by shepherds to the Bethlehem cave, St. Joseph lit it in order to warm up cold cave, Virgin Mary and the newborn Jesus Christ.
As Jesus was born in a barn on straw, the straw on the floor is mandatory decoration with grains, nuts, wheat and dried fruit which symbolize the fertility of earth.
While the male members of the family prepare Badnjak, women stay at home to make the dining table for Christmas Eve dinner, which is always meatless: fish, beans, dry fruits, wine, honey and wheat are usually served during the Christmas dinner.
Christmas cake is decorated with a Christian symbols, but also with symbols of ancient Slavs god of thunder Perun, which resembles to the Latin letter “s” in spiral shape at the ends.
Christian tradition holds that Jesus Christ was born at night and because of that Midnight Mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve, traditionally at midnight, in commemoration of his birth.
As I have two homes one in Croatia the other in Serbia, I was privileged of having experienced Christmas celebration in different ways, quietly with my family, Christmas tree and gifts, in a traditional way with my Orthodox friends who lit Badnjak, and the most beautiful Christmas Eve celebrations in my homeland Dalmatia in crowded streets and squares fulfilled with music and joy, where women dressed in traditional dresses offer sweets, biscuits, dried figs, carob, mandarins and oranges.. Groups of singers with mandolins and guitars congratulate the Christmas Eve and upcoming New Year while walking around and singing old carols. One of the oldest and the most famous folk carol is Dubrovnik Kolenda.