Easter in Serbia: Revealing the Diglossic Holiday

Easter in Serbia: Revealing the Diglossic Holiday 1

Easter in Serbia: the Diglossic Holiday

Welcome to my blog for Serbian language learners. It contains free Serbian lessons and articles about Serbia and its lifestyle. To read more about me, visit my presentation page. For frequent updates, follow me on Facebook, YouTube or Instagram.

Magdalena Petrović Jelić

Easter in Serbia is a very fun experience. We boil and color eggs, usually on Good Friday. There are traditional methods, involving plants, wax and onion peels, and then there are the modern dyes and stickers. We use different methods because the Easter eggs in Serbia must be multicolored.

Watch this video about how we color eggs for Easter in Serbia. It’s in Serbian, so don’t forget to turn on the English captions, if you need.

The first red egg is the “čuvarkuća” (house guard). We put it on a shelve to guards our home until the next Easter, when it’s replaced. Then on Easter, we use the colored eggs in a jolly competition: We crack them, and the strongest egg wins!  

There is also a special greeting we use on Easter only, and it’s similar to the Christmas greeting. But the Easter greeting is a bit controversial. And I bet you’ve been unsure how to say it correctly.

I wrote about why we have this linguistic vacillation in my article that was first published in the “American Srbobran” on April 3, 2019. Here I’m sharing it with you entirely:    


The Diglossic Easter in Serbia

[I recommend reading on a big screen for comparing the two languages in two columns. On mobile, scroll down for Serbian.]

There are two words that people in Serbia use to refer to Easter: Uskrs and Vaskrs. There are two forms of the verb to resurrect as well: uskrsnuti and vaskrsnuti. To make it more complex, the official terms of our church are Voskresenije and voskresnuti.

All these forms reflect the diglossia that Serbs have had for centuries. On one side we have the vernacular Serbian, with oral tradition and folk literature. On the other side we have Old Church Slavonic, as the first literary and liturgical Slavic language, with written tradition. It had different recensions, created as the writers incorporated elements of their vernacular into it. The Serbian Church had used Serbian recension of Church Slavonic (Serbo-Slavonic) ever since the Serbs took Slavic literacy in the 10th century.

In the second half of the 18th century, when the Serbs fled from the Ottomans and settled in Vojvodina, the Russian influence became strong. As Russian books were used by the Serbs in Austro-Hungarian Empire, Serbo-Slavonic was replaced by the Russian recension of Church Slavonic (Russo-Slavonic).

That’s how a new language came into use: Slavonic-Serbian. It was a mixture of Russo-Slavonic with Serbian vernacular. This sublime language came out of use in the Romantic era, as the vernacular language became official and the writing system was reformed. However, Russo-Slavonic remains to this day the official language of our church.

For this reason we have the vernacular expressions Uskrs and uskrsnuti that belong to the modern standard, as well as Serbo-Slavonic Vaksrs and vaskrsnuti, that is used among the people, and Russo-Slavonic Voskresenije and voskresnuti, that is used by our church.

The Serbian Orthodox Church celebrates Easter on April 28th this year. On this day we crack eggs we colored on Good Friday and greet each other with a special greeting that celebrates the dogma of resurrection: „Christ is risen!” And answer: „Truly he is risen!“

There is the Serbo-Slavonic variant of this greeting: „Hristos vaskrse“ – „Vaistinu vaskrse“.

And there is the Russo-Slavonic variant of it: „Hristos voskrese“ – „Vaistinu voskrese“.

The modern Serbian form of this greeting would be: „Hrist uskrsnu“ – „Zaista uskrsnu“; but it’s never used.

Since the common people are not familiar with the church language, you’ll hear other irregular variants of the greeting: „Hristos vaskrs“; „Hristos vaskrese“, „Hristos voskrse“.

So, how to greet your family on Easter in Serbia? Here’s my advice: if you are the first to greet, choose one of the correct forms „Hristos vaskrse“ or „Hristos voskrese“ and add: „Happy Easter!“ But if you are answering, choose the same form the other person used and be polite, even if that means using the wrong form: „Vaistinu vaskrs“, „Vaistinu vaksrese“, „Vaistinu voskrese“.

Let’s spread love and respect, rather than the linguistic correctness, on this great day that is in some places in Serbia still called Veligdan (The Great Day).

Dve su reči koje ljudi u Srbiji koriste za ovaj praznik: Uskrs i Vaskrs. Takođe imamo i dva glagola: uskrsnuti i vaskrsnuti. Da stvar bude još složenija, zvanični termini naše crkve su Voskresenije i voskresnuti.

Svi ovi oblici odražavaju diglosiju koju Srbi vekovima imaju. S jedne strane imamo narodni srpski jezik, sa usmenom tradicijom i narodnom književnošću. S druge strane imamo staroslovenski, kao prvi književni i liturgijski jezik, sa pisanom tradicijom. Taj jezik je imao različite recenzije, nastale tako što su pisci u njega ugrađivali elemente svog narodnog jezika. Srpska crkva je koristila srpsku recenziju staroslovenskog (srpskoslovenski) otkako su Srbi primili slovensku pismenost u 10. veku.


U drugoj polovini 18. veka, kada su Srbi pobegli od Osmanlija i naselili se u Vojvodini, Ruski uticaj je ojačao. Kako su Srbi u Austrougarskom carstvu koristili ruske knjige, srpskoslovenski je zamenila ruska recenzija staroslovenskog (ruskoslovenski).

Tako je jedan novi jezik došao u upotrebu: slavjanoserpski. To je bila mešavina ruskoslovenskog sa srpskim narodnim jezikom. Ovaj uzvišeni jezik je izašao iz upotrebe u eposi romantizma, kada je narodni jezik postao zvanični, a pravopis reformisan. Međutim, ruskoslovenski je do danas ostao zvanični jezik naše crkve.

Zbog toga imamo narodne izraze Uskrs i uskrsnuti, koji pripadaju modernom standardu, kao i srpskoslovensko Vaksrs i vaskrsnuti, koje se koristi u narodu, i ruskoslovensko Voskresenije i voskresnuti, koje koristi naša crkva.


Srpska pravoslavna crkva ove godine slavi Uskrs 28. aprila. Na taj dan lupamo jaja koja smo obojili na Veliki petak i pozdravljamo se naročitim pozdravom koji proslavlja dogmu uskrsnuća.

Postoji srpskoslovenska varijanta ovog pozdrava: „Hristos vaskrse“ – „Vaistinu vaskrse“.

A postoji i njegova ruskoslovenska varijanta „Hristos voskrese“ – „Vaistinu voskrese“.

Na savremenom srpskom jeziku, ovaj pozdrav bi glasio: „Hrist uskrsnu“ – „Zaista uskrsnu“; ali to se nikad ne koristi.

Pošto narod ne poznaje crkveni jezik, čućete i druge nepravilne varijante ovog pozdrava: „Hristos vaskrs“; „Hristos vaskrese“, „Hristos voskrse“.

Dakle, kako ćete pozdraviti svoju porodicu na Uskrs u Srbiji? Evo mog saveta: ako pozdravljate prvi, izaberite jednu od dve ispravne forme „Hristos vaskrse“ or „Hristos voskrese“ i dodajte: „Srećan Uskrs!“ Ali ako odgovarate, izaberite istu formu koju je druga osoba upotrebila i budite ljubazni, i ako to znači da ćete upotrebiti nepravilan oblik: „Vaistinu vaskrs“, „Vaistinu vaksrese“, „Vaistinu voskrese“.

Hajde da širimo ljubav i poštovanje, pre nego jezičku ispravnost, na ovaj veliki dan, koji se ponegde u Srbiji još naziva i Veligdan.

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

Sretenje: Serbia’s Statehood day and a Sacred Meeting Day 2

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

Welcome to my blog for Serbian language learners. It contains free Serbian lessons and articles about Serbia and its lifestyle. To read more about me, visit my presentation page. For frequent updates, follow me on Facebook, YouTube or Instagram.

Magdalena Petrović Jelić

[I recommend reading on a big screen for comparing the two languages in two columns. On mobile, scroll down for Serbian.]

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.

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New Year Traditions in Serbia – Why We Celebrate Twice

New Year Traditions in Serbia - Why We Celebrate Twice 3

2 New Year Traditions in Serbia: Why We Celebrate Twice


Welcome to my blog for Serbian language learners. It contains free Serbian lessons and articles about Serbia and its lifestyle. To read more about me, visit my presentation page. For frequent updates, follow me on Facebook, YouTube or Instagram.

Magdalena Petrović Jelić

If you ever dreamed of celebrating Christmas and New Year twice, Serbia is the best place for that. Did you know that we have double holidays in Serbia? Two Christmases and two New Years. What do you know about Serbian Christmas and New Year traditions in Serbia?

When I was a kid, we used to write postcards. And now we write emails, but the text is more or less the same:

Srećni božićni i novogodišnji praznici

Meaning: “Merry Christmas’ and New Year’s holidays” – because there are many holidays around our Christmases and New Years.

In this video you’ll learn what are Christmas and New Year traditions in Serbia. Find out why we double-celebrate and how to wish your friends a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year in Serbian.

2 Christmas and New Year Traditions in Serbia

[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

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 traditions 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).


In the end, I’ll wish you a happy new year in Serbian:

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!

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