Sretenje: Serbia’s Statehood day and a Sacred Meeting Day

Sretenje: Serbia’s Statehood day and a Sacred Meeting Day


by Magdalena Petrović Jelić


Most words of any language are polysemous: they have more than one meaning. These different meanings sometimes coincide in another language, but frequently they don’t.

For example, in English you use the verb ‘to meet’ to express three ideas: (1) that you met someone new, (2) that you met someone as you planned and agreed, or (3) that you met someone by accident.

In Serbian, we have three distinct verbs for that:

(1) upoznati is to meet for the first time (“Upoznao sam svoju ženu na fakultetu” – I met my wife at college),

(2) naći se is to meet as agreed (“Hajde da se nađemo sutra u gradu” – Let’s meet tomorrow downtown), and

(3) sresti is to meet by accident (“Srela sam koleginicu na pijaci” – I met my colleague at the market).


The latter verb (sresti) gave the noun sreća (that means both happiness and luck) and the adjective srećan or sretan (happy or lucky). Because luck is something we can only meet by accident.


That’s also the origin of the word Sretenje.


Sretenje as a Christian holiday

Sretenje – the Meeting of the Lord – is a Christian holiday celebrating the day when Christ was first presented at the temple 40 days after his birth. That’s why it’s celebrated 40 days after Christmas. It represents the first meeting of the man with the God.


Sretenje as a Serbia’s Statehood and Constitution day

Sretenje is Serbia’s Statehood day for historical, not religious, reasons. On this day in 1804, the First Serbian Uprising started, the onset of a series of actions that eventually led to liberation from the five-centuries long Ottoman rule.


Serbia's Statehood day Sretenje

Sretenje by the monument to Karađorđe in Orešac, photo by Tanjug, Zoran Žestić


Also on this day in 1835, the first Constitution was enforced in Serbia. This is why February 15th is also Constitution day.

The Sretenje Constitution was a modern and liberal constitution, and it was the first one in the Balkans. Even though it was abolished after only two weeks, it shows the spirit of the time.


Sretenje in the Serbian folk tradition

Sretenje is equally important for the Serbian folk tradition as it is considered the day when winter meets summer. As the days are becoming longer and nights shorter from this day on, it’s a turning point. That’s why it’s often said “Sretenje obretenje” – from the verb “obrtati”, to turn.

It is also believed that the first person a girl meets on this day will look like her “suđenik” – her destined one or her husband-to-be.

On this day, “mečka Božana” exits her cave after the winter sleep, just like the Pennsylvania groundhog. “Mečka Božana” is the mythical sow bear Božana, a pre-Christian goddess. That’s why she has this sacred name, derived from the word “bog” (god).The legend says if the sow bear sees her shadow, she’ll be afraid and hide back in her cave, meaning winter will continue. But if she doesn’t meet her shadow, she’ll move on to search for food, and that means winter will end.

Nowadays, we turn to the sow bear of the Belgrade Zoo for forecast, even though she lives in captivity and is not a reliable meteorologist.


As I’m writing this, on Sretenje 2019, it’s partly cloudy here in Serbia. I hope that Božana will leave her cave under the clouds so that she won’t meet her shadow this year.

Do you know Serbia? Meet Belgrade!

Do you know Serbia? Meet Belgrade, the capital!

by Magdalena Petrović Jelić


Belgrade is the capital and the biggest city of Serbia. It has been named the “city that never sleeps”. Many young people love it for it’s night life. It is believed that whoever experiences Belgrade falls in love with it and returns to it often.

The most important site to visit in Belgrade is its famous fortress named Kalemegdan (Beogradska tvrđava Kalemegdan). It is located on the confluence of two rivers: Danube (Dunav) and Sava. The view of the rivers is magnificent.

Once you’re downtown, you shouldn’t miss Skadarlija – the famous bohemian quarter with restaurants and taverns, or as we call them kafana. There you can eat the local food, usually based on meet, and listen to traditional live music.

A video about Belgrade to teach you Serbian

Here I want to share a video to help you learn different facts about Belgrade in the Serbian language. You can also use it to practice your listening skills.

When watching the video for the first time, focus on understanding the meaning and remembering the story line. After that, you can repeatedly watch and listen to the final part of the video, the text only in Serbian. That will help you really remember and internalize what you have heard in the video. 

The Story-Telling Technique 

Listening to stories that you’re familiar with can work wonders for your Serbian language learning. This is a powerful technique that will help you remember the vocabulary and absorb pronunciation.

If you liked this video, you will certainly enjoy the Tako Lako Beginner Course, where each module contains two videos like this that inform you about Serbia in Serbian.

Why We Celebrate Christmases and New Year Twice in Serbia

Why Christmas and New Year are Celebrated TWICE in Serbia

by Magdalena Petrović Jelić


If you ever dreamed of celebrating two Christmases and two New Years, Serbia is the best place for that. Did you know that we have double holidays in Serbia?

Watch this video to find out what are Christmas and New Year traditions in Serbia. Learn why we double-celebrate and how to wish your friends a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year in Serbian language.

[transcript of the video]

Have you ever wondered why we have two Christmases and two New Years in Serbia?

I’m Magdalena from Serbian Courses, and in this video I’ll explain our a bit strange tradition to double celebrate Christmas and New Year in Serbia.


The two calendars actually cause double Christmas and New Year in Serbia

It all starts with calendars. We basically have two calendars. The new calendar or Gregorian (novi ili gregorijanski kalendar) is used in the entire state. And the old calendar (stari ili julijanski kalendar) is used by our church. That’s why we refer to the old calendar as „pravoslavni“ (orthodox) whereas we would refer to the new calendar as „katolički“ (catholic).


Religion in Serbia

Serbia is predominantly orthodox country. If you look at the data at Wikipedia, you’ll see that 85% of population are orthodox, and five percent are catholic. However, these 5 percent are concentrated in North Serbia, in Vojvodina. And in Vojvodina it’s very typical that in various cities both catholic and orthodox Christmases are celebrated.


The dates of Christmas and New Year holidays in Serbia

Between the two calendars we currently have 13 days of difference.

The Catholic Christmas (katolički Božić) is celebrated on December 25 (dvadeset petog decembra).

The Orthodox Christmas (pravoslavni Božić) is celebrated 13 days later, on January 7 (sedmog januara).

New Year’s Eve is celebrated on December 31 (trideset prvog decembra).

Orthodox or Serbian New Year (Pravoslavna ili Srpska nova godina) is celebrated on january 13 (trinaestog januara).


Holiday contradiction in Serbia: Catholic New Year and Orthodox Christmas

Since the vast majority of citizens in Serbia are orthodox, the Orthodox Christmas (on January 7) is the biggest or the most celebrated holiday, whereas the entire country will celebrate December 31 as New Year.

Why is this so?

Because Christmas (Božić) is a very traditional holiday and people started celebrating New Year’s Eve on December 31 after the World War 2.

Celebration of the New Year on December 31 started with communism and it’s not a religious holiday.

It’s a party that we celebrate with our friends. Whereas Christmas is religious, traditional and it’s all about family.


Christmas and New Year customs in Serbia

For New Years Eve we say doček Nove godine, which means like ‘waiting for new year’. Because we’re waiting for it to come.

For Christmas Eve we say Badnje veče.


For Christmas we also have badnjak, which is a branch of an oak tree, usually.

And for New Year we have novogodišnja jelka – we don’t say Christmas tree, it’s „New Year’s tree“ for us.


For Christmas we have Božić Bata (Christmas Guy) bringing presents to the children.

And for New Year’s eve we have Deda Mraz (Santa Claus or „Grandpa Frost“, as we put it.)


As you can see, Christmas and New Year in Serbia are two different traditions. Božić is orthodox and religious and traditional, whereas New Year is new, and it’s all about friends and partying.


Since the businesses in the country and the State itself use the new calendar, December 31 is considered the end of the old year and the January 1 is considered the beginning of a new year, together with the entire Western World.

And January 13 is Serbian or Orthodox New Year and it’s less celebrated. It is also celebrated, celebration is the same (you party with your friends, you have the New Year’s tree) but less people celebrate on that date.


How to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Serbian

For the Catholic Christmas you will simple say: „Srećan Božić!“

The tradition of the Orthodox Christmas is to say „Hristos se rodi!“ (Christ was born). And the answer to this is „Vaistinu se rodi!“ (Indeed he was born).


How to wish a happy new year? We simply say: „Srećna Nova godina“ (happy New Year). And you can also say „Sve najbolje u novoj godini“ (I wish you all the best in the new year).


Srećan vam Božić i srećna Nova godina! Želim vam sve najbolje u novoj godini!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I wish you all best in the new year!


If you liked the video, please show it! Share it with your friends who might benefit from it, and help me spread the word about the Natural Serbian course!

Typical Serbian gifts: How to be a good guest in Serbia

Typical Serbian gifts: How to be a good guest in Serbia

by Magdalena Petrović Jelić


People talk a lot about how Serbs are good hosts, how they like their guests, how they are welcoming and friendly, etc. But, do you know how to be a good guest?

There are actually unwritten rules what we do as guests. Watch the video to learn what is expected from guests in Serbia and what are the most typical Serbian gifts we usually bring to our friends.

[transcript of the video about the typical Serbian gifts]

Hello and welcome to the Natural Serbian course!

Ja sam Magdalena, and today I want to teach you how to be a good guest in Serbia.

People talk a lot about how Serbians are good hosts, how they like their guests, how they are welcoming and friendly, etc.

But, do you know how to be a good guest?

There are actually unwritten rules about what we do as guests. It’s typical that we bring presents to our hosts.

But what kind of presents? What are typical Serbian gifts?


The most typical gift in Serbia is coffee.

Dvesta grama kafe – 200 grams of coffee is the most typical present that we bring to our friends or relatives when we are going to visit them.

100 grams is too little, more than 200 grams is too much, like if you really want to show off, so 200 grams is the most normal thing to bring to your friends or relatives in Serbia.


Another typical Serbian gift is chocolate.

We also commonly bring chocolate, čokolada, or anything sweet. But mostly chocolate. If you want to show off, or to show extra style, you will bring bombonjera (a fancy sweet-box). Bombonjera is very stilish.


Different gifts are typical for women, men and children in Serbia

For your lady host, domaćica, you can bring some flowers.

For your male host you will bring a bottle of drink, usually rakija or wine – these are the most typical. If you know what your host likes to drink, that’s what you’ll bring. Or you’ll just grab what you have at home and bring that.

If there are children, you can bring them chocolate or sweets, but nowadays there are ever more conscious parents and conscious mothers that don’t like giving sugar to their children, so they will prefer to get fruit: voće – banane, jabuke, mandarine, any kind of fruit. That’s really beautiful and as a mother, I would prefer that.


Visiting an ill friend? Here’s how to show your care!

Fruit is a typical gift we bring to a sick friend. If you have an ill friend and you’re going to visit them, bring a lot of fruit with you, that’s what we do.


Pick an old-fashioned typical Serbian gift for elders

If the people that you’re visiting are old, if you’re visiting grandmas and grandpas, then apart from coffee and chocolate, you can also bring ratluk. Ratluk (in English: Turkish delight) is another typical gift.


If you’re visiting your friends in Serbia, now you know what to do and how to be a good guest and return their hospitality.

Bring some chocolate to your friends. If you’re coming to my home, please bring some fruit instead.


These are the general guidelines for picking typical Serbian gifts.

Of course, you can be creative and bring anything you know your friends will like just to show that you care.


If you liked the video, if you like the course, please show it! Share it with your friends who might benefit from it, and help me spread the word about the Natural Serbian course!

10 Ways to Say Goodbye in Serbia

How to Say Goodbye in Serbian

by Magdalena Petrović Jelić


How can you say goodbye in Serbian Language? What should you say to your Serbian friends when leaving? Will you say “Zdravo” both to greet them and as a goodbye? What is the informal variant of “prijatno”?


In this video I will teach you how to say goodbye in Serbian, in more than 10 ways.



What do you say to your Serbian friends when leaving?

Šta kažeš svojim prijateljima kada odlaziš?

Do you say zdravo both to greet them and as a goodbye?


Welcome to the Natural Serbian Course, the best place to learn real Serbian.

Zdravo svima! Ja sam Magdalena i danas ću vas naučiti 10 načina da se oprostite na srpskom.

I’m Magdalena and today I’ll teach you how to say goodbye in Serbian in 10 different ways


Let’s start from the most formal way of saying goodbye:


1)            Doviđenja.

It actually means “until seeing (you next time)”. Sometimes another word is put in the middle of it, and we get do skorog viđenja, and it means “until I see you soon again”, but that’s mostly written in letters or emails, and it’s kind of obsolete, so we don’t really use it that much, but you can write it.


2)           Prijatno

Doviđenja is usually combined with another word, with another formal farewell: prijatno, which means “pleasantly”. So, you can use it to say that something is pleasant: “Ovde je prijatno”, (it’s pleasant here). And we also use it to say “have a nice meal, bon appetit”: Prijatno!

It’s also used to say have a pleasant day/evening/whatever.

A tip is to combine these two words: Doviđenja, prijatno! When someone says “Doviđenja”, you can answer with “Doviđenja” or “Prijatno”, or you can combine them to “Doviđenja, prijatno” and be double-polite.


3)          Zbogom

You might have seen zbogom in a book, but it’s old-fashioned and it’s not used nowadays. It means “may god be with you” or “travel with god”. If you use it, people will think that you’re leaving for good and never want to see them again, or that you’re extra religious. So, only if you want to sound like that, you can use “zbogom”.


4)           Uzdravlje

If you have a chance to talk to old people, you can hear them use uzdravlje, or aj uzdravlje („to health, go to health, to our health“) as another old way of saying goodbye. It is also another possible toast, in addition to živeli, which is in some regions also used as a farewell interjection. So, you can hear „uzdravlje“, „živeli“, „živeo“, „živio“ as a farewell as well.



Informal ways to say goodbye in Serbian language 


5)           Zdravo, ćao

In the previous video, you’ve learned zdravo and ćao. These are used informally both as hi and bye. However, when leaving, we tend to combine them with „aj“ (which is a word I will explain in one of my next videos). So, when leaving, we will say: Aj zdravo. Aj ćao.


6)            Vidimo se

To finish an informal conversation with a friend or family, we can and often do say Vidimo se (see you, literally: we see each other), since we know that we’ll meet soon again.


7)           Čujemo se

However, if we intend to talk to them on the phone first, we will say Čujemo se. It means: “we hear each other” or “I’ll talk to you on the phone”.


And these two are usually combined with any word telling time, such as večeras, sutra, prekosutra, kasnije, za vikend, u petak, i tako dalje (tonight, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, later, on the weekend, on Friday, etc). There are plenty of combinations, whenever you plan to see or call someone, you can just say that day or date.

Čujemo se večeras! (talk to you tonight)

Vidimo se prekosutra! (see you the day after tomorrow)

Čujemo se večeras, pa se vidimo sutra. (talk to you on the phone tonight, and then see you tomorrow)


Both of these goodbye phrases are used also in the future tense, so you can say: čućemo se, videćemo se (we will hear each other, we will see each other).


8)            Uživaj!

We also have an informal variant of „prijatno“, and that is: Uživaj! (for you singular) and Uživajte! (for you plural) It literally means „enjoy yourself“ or „enjoy yourselves“


Many times you will hear a combination of these phrases, so for example you will hear:

„Hej, aj ćao, čujemo se, uživaj!“


9)            Laku noć

When we’re leaving late at night, we will always say Laku noć, formally and informally. In any kind of situation, „laku noć“ is safe to use. It follows shaking hands as well as a good-night kiss with your partner, so just use „laku noć“ whenever it’s late at night and you’re leaving to go to sleep.

Now, if you want to be nice and answer nicely to this phrase, you will say: Laku noć i lepo spavaj (good night and sleep tight/nicely).


10)          And lastly, if you want to be mischievous a little bit and to make a joke, you can answer Jele te bube celu noć! (let the bugs bite you all night).




To summarize, here we’ve learned how to say goodbye in Serbian

We’ve learned 10 phrases you can say when leaving or parting with your friends in Serbia:

  1. Doviđenja
  2. Prijatno
  3. Zbogom
  4. Uzdravlje! Živeli!
  5. Aj zdravo! Aj ćao!
  6. Vidimo se, videćemo se
  7. Čujemo se, čućemo se
  8. Uživaj! Uživajte!
  9. Laku noć i lepo spavaj
  10. Jele te bube celu noć!




A ti? Kako se ti opraštaš od svojih prijatelja? How do you part from your friends?

Share your experience and ask questions in the comments bellow.

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Learn how to blend in with your Serbian friends and how to sound really Serbian!