Serbian Christmas Traditions in the 21st Century

Serbian Christmas Traditions in the 21st Century


Preparations for the Serbian Orthodox Christmas, related holidays, Serbian Christmas Eve, Christmas tree, typical food… All about Serbian Christmas traditions today.

Chilly tickles of falling snowflakes on my cheeks. Sparkling branches of a burning oak glowing in the eyes. Gentle touch of green wheat sprouts on my fingertips. The first buttery taste of cheese after fasting. Jingling giggles of the jolly family. Hasty mother whirling around the house cooking several dishes at once… Thinking of Christmas and Serbian Christmas traditions brings back so many childhood memories.

I’ve always loved the end of the year and all the holidays, especially the old rituals that included doing things you’re normally never allowed to do – like tying your parents, dining on the floor or throwing nuts and seeds around the house.

Serbian Christmas traditions are very old, rich and beautiful. They include numerous customs, beliefs and rituals. Many of them are actually old pagan practices in Christian disguise. I was born to parents who grew up in the communist Yugoslavia. Church and religion were never a big thing in our home. But Christmas and other holidays with old customs, as well as our slava, St Nicholas, were always something we respected as our Serbian tradition and national mark.

Orthodox Christmas in Serbia is celebrated on January 7th. If you want to learn why we have different dates for the Serbian Christmas and Serbian New Year, why the Serbs celebrate two New Years and what’s the difference between the Christmas and New Year celebrations, please visit this post.

In this article I will explain the Serbian Christmas traditions and rituals we’ve maintained to the modern age.


Serbian Christmas Traditions: Sending Greeting Cards

Today we can send quick emails, text messages and e-cards for every holiday. But when I was a child, we used to write postcards: one postcard for the entire holiday season. The text was usually a variation of the same message: “Srećni božićni i novogodišnji praznici!” Meaning: “Merry Christmas’ and New Year’s holidays” – because there are many holidays around the end of the year. They are all part of the Serbian Christmas traditions.

Serbian Christmas Traditions in the 21st Century 1

Photo: 2015, City of Pančevo,

The businesses and administration today have kept this practice. They send an email or a post card to their clients with this message. Usually there is a mild orthography panic in the offices in December, because people are unsure which word(s) to capitalize and make an educated impression.

The orthography rules are clear and this is how we capitalize the holidays: Božić (Christmas) and Nova godina (New Year). However, it’s nova godina if you have in mind the entire new year and not only the celebration. Adjectives božićni and novogodišnji are not capitalized. 

Here are some examples of how to write Serbian Christmas greetings:

Srećan vam Božić i Nova godina! (Merry Christmas and New Year to you!)

Želim vam srećan Božić i Novu godinu! (I wish you a merry Christmas and New Year!)

Srećni božićni i novogodišnji praznici! (Happy Christmas’ and New Year’s holidays!)

Srećna vam nova 2020. godina! (Happy New Year 2020!)

Mnogo sreće i zdravlja u novoj 2020. godini! (Lots of luck and health in the new year 2020!)


The Holiday Season in Serbia

The festive season has already begun in late autumn and continues through winter, with numerous slavas (family saint patron day celebrations). Sveti Nikola or St Nicholas, on December 19th, is the most important one, because it’s the most widely celebrated of all slavas. I still owe you a decent post about Serbian slava custom, and I promise to make one – probably next year.

Here you can see what is it that we first serve to our guests on the St Nicholas day.

Serbian Christmas Traditions: Wheat Sprouts

St Nicholas is the day when the Christmas wheat is put in wet dishes to start sprouting. It’ll take just about until Christmas to have beautiful green sprouts to decorate your Christmas table. Believe it or not, it’s not that easy to make nice sprouts. You need the right temperature and the right amount of water… But you can always choose the easier way and buy a prepared decoration, as many busy people actually do nowadays.

Serbian Christmas Traditions in the 21st Century 2

Serbian Christmas traditions begin in mid December, with three holidays that celebrate family.

Three Family Bonding Holidays: Detinjci, Materice and Oci

Three weeks before Christmas, or rather: on three Sundays before Christmas, we celebrate these three holidays. They are an important part of the Serbian Christmas traditions and they bring lots of laughter and fun to our homes. Actually, there isn’t a real celebration, but more a game that all family members enjoy.

The children’s day Detinjci comes first; it’s on the third Sunday before Christmas. On this day in the early morning, parents take some rope, a ribbon or a scarf, to tie their children before they wake up. Then children have to redeem themselves by giving small gifts, drawings, reciting or singing a song to their parents.

The following Sunday it’s the mothers’ day, Materice – two Sundays before Christmas. On this day the children will tie their mother, grandmother, aunt and any other woman in the family. She will give them previously prepared gifts to redeem herself. Mothers and grandmothers usually love this holiday and make sure to prepare treats and gifts for their family, especially children.

Finally, on the Sunday before Christmas, it’s the fathers’ day: Oci or Očevi or PatericeFathers are usually most fun to play with. On this day, the father must be prepared, but can also play with children, not letting them catch him easily. He will run away from a loose rope and usually play a hard nut. But in the end, after a good laughter, he will finally submit and offer presents to buy his freedom.

Detinci, Materice and Oci are movable holidays, so sometimes they coincide with another holiday. This happened in 2018, when I filmed the video below: the paternal holiday Oci happened to be on the same day as Christmas Eve: Badnje veče. In this video I explained these Serbian Christmas traditions in the Serbian language, so here’s a chance to practice your listening skills:

Serbian Christmas traditions: Christmas Eve Today

The day before Christmas, January 6th, is called Badnji dan, and the evening Badnje veče. In fact, I even remember how my paternal grandmother, who was a communist and a partisan in her youth, would come to our house in the morning, saying: “Dobro jutro, srećno Badnje jutro!”

It’s the last fasting day in the long Nativity fast. The truth is, we never fasted much – so that was the only fasting day for us. Because my other grandmother never allowed us not to fast on this day, and on Great Friday before Easter. She was a sweet, religious, hardworking lady, who taught us most of what we know about the Serbian traditions.

The day before Christmas goes by in preparations. Mothers are cooking and preparing the food for the evening and the great holiday the next day. Fathers are getting the Serbian Christmas tree – badnjak – and usually roasting a pig, if they live in the countryside.

Serbian Christmas Traditions in the 21 Century – Live Lesson in Serbian

Traditional Serbian Christmas Tree

What you call “Christmas tree” in English, for us is “New Year’s fir tree” – novogodišnja jelka, as I explained in this post. For Christmas, we actually have a different kind of tree.

In the early morning, the head of the family goes to the forest to cut off a young oak tree. That’s the old Serbian Christmas tradition, and people still do that in the countryside. I know my cousins do it with their sons.

Often many men go for this task, and the ritual of course involves drinking rakija, so you can read many jokes on the social media about “going at 6 AM for badnjak and returning home at 12 as drunk as a lord”, or as we put it, “mrtav pijan” (dead drunk).

Serbian Christmas Traditions in the 21st Century 3

Photo: 2018,

If you want to learn details about the old Serbian Christmas tradition of cutting the Christmas oak tree or badnjak, and other very old rituals and beliefs around Christmas, I recommend this post on the blog Old European Culture. Most people in our days don’t even know that all these customs existed, let alone their ancient meaning.


Today, in the cities, we actually buy some less impressive branches. It’s more of a symbol then a real, traditional badnjak. A few days before the Serbian Christmas in January, you can see the stands selling badnjak-bouquets in every town.

Serbian Christmas Traditions in the 21st Century 4

Photo: 2017,

Serbian Christmas Traditions: Burning Christmas Trees

Badnjak was originally a big oak log that burned the whole night before Christmas in the fireplace, while people would sit around and talk. Today we don’t have such fireplaces any more. Many people live in apartment buildings, without fireplace.

I suppose that’s why people started gathering in cities to burn big Christmas oaks, usually in front of the churches. It is often a big and jolly gathering, with fireworks, firecrackers, mulled wine and šumadijski čaj (tea of Šumadija, wich is, of course, boiled brandy – the merriest of all the Serbian Christmas Traditions).

Serbian Christmas Traditions in the 21st Century 5

Photo: 2015,

Serbian Christmas Traditions: Christmas Eve Dinner

The best part of Christmas for me has always been Christmas Eve dinner. In my family, we’ve kept the tradition of setting up our Christmas Eve dining table on the floor. We also have some straw to evoke the atmosphere of the stable, where Christ was born. That’s the only day we all sit on the floor together.

This tradition comes from the ancient days, when this dinner was served for the living and the dead – that’s why it’s on the ground. But most families today will serve their Christmas Eve dinner, Badnja večera, on a dining table, with some straw under the table.

We spread a blanket on the floor and put a table cloth on it. On top of it, we arrange plates, food, the left over candle from slava last year, and the ceremonial bread. All around we put pillows for us to sit on.

The food is fasting: it contains no animal-related food, except for the fish. Traditionally, we have baked beans (prebranac), some fish, pickled vegetables, red-pepper with garlic, baked pumpkin, dried fruits and nuts.

Before we sit for dinner, badnjak is taken into the house. In my family’s tradition, it’s the father who brings it in and the children follow him chirping like chickens. The mother of the house is greeting them by showering them with all sorts of seeds, mostly wheat and corn, from her sieve. We may not know exactly why we do that, but it’s really funny. 

Serbian Traditional Christmas Bread: česnica

An important part of Serbian Christmas Traditions is česnica. It’s a ceremony bread baked with a coin that symbolizes wealth, and sometimes other elements, that predict prosperity for the coming year. For example, a little branch of dren (cornelian cherry) symbolizes health.

In my family, we’ve always had our česnica on the Christmas Eve, even though in some families it’s a part of the Christmas feast. My father would break the česnica bread and give each family member a piece, there would be one piece for the house and one piece for an accidental visitor.

Serbian Christmas Traditions in the 21st Century 6

In Srem and other parts of Vojvodina, česnica is not a bread at all: it’s a sweet pie made from walnuts and honey. Here’s a great recipe (in Serbian).

Serbian Christmas Traditions in the 21st Century 7

After breaking and distributing the česnica, my father would always take four walnuts from the sieve my mother previously used. He would throw one walnut to each of the four corners of the room, making a cross. As a child, I never knew why he did that – it was simply a tradition. Now I know that walnuts were offerings for our ancestors.

Serbian Christmas Traditions: Christmas Morning and First-Footer

As soon as I’d wake up on a Christmas morning on January 7th, even before breakfast, I’d quickly dress up and rush out the door. My elders scared me: “Don’t let anyone beat you and be the first!”

The first person who comes into your home is your first-footer for that year, or as we say it polaženik. According to the Serbian Christmas Traditions, he has a very important role in predicting what will your new year be like. So we won’t let just anyone assume that role by accident. Rather, we’ll arrange the whole thing.

I know in some families the children take the role of polaženik in their own homes. That’s not how we do it in my family.

As a teenager, I was the arranged polaženik in my aunt’s house, and my cousin in mine. We had a little contest who’ll wake up first and do the job. Scared that someone else would be quicker, I remember one year she even came very early, so early that she woke us all up!

Now we have three children at my mom’s for Christmas, and the contest is among them: the child that wakes up first is taken to my aunt’s to perform the ceremony. It’s very important for the children, because polaženik is treated as a special guest and gets presents.

Polaženik, polažajnik or polaznik is a very important part of the Serbian Christmas Traditions. The name comes from the verb poći, polaziti (to start, begin). That’s the person who starts the new year for your family and predicts how it will be. The ritual involves using the badnjak branches to make fire and sparkles (varnice).

My aunt lives in an apartment building, and has no fireplace. But that doesn’t stop us: she heats up an oven for that purpose. Polaženik puts badnjak on the heaters in the oven to make sparkles in the oven. My mom has a furnace, so our polaženik makes a real fire.


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It is our Serbian Christmas Tradition that polaženik tells good wishes for the following year using this formula: “Koliko varnica, toliko parica” (As many sparkles, that many coins) and continues listing all the good wishes for the whole family and family members individually.

If you do a good job as polaženik, you’ll be invited again next year.

Serbian Christmas Traditions – Elaborate and Complex

Hopefully, I managed to show you at least a little part of the magic the Serbian Christmas traditions bring. There are many rituals and customs, most of them feel really pagan and old. I’m sure there are quite a few I didn’t mention here, but I’ll keep updating this post and adding more information.

Finally, if I may give you a piece of advice: If you have family or friends in Serbia, especially in the country side, visit them for Christmas Eve and Christmas. Be a polaženik. All these traditions are slowly giving way to the new practices and globalized culture. It’s already slightly different from when I was a child.

For this Christmas, I wish you to experience the Serbian Christmas traditions while they still resonate with our ancient pagan roots. Then, make sure to use the Serbian orthodox Christmas greeting – similar to the one used on Easter:


Mir božji, Hristos se rodi! (Peace of God, Christ is born!)

Usually written in the Cyrillic script: Мир божји, Христос се роди!


And answer:

Vaistinu se rodi! (Truly he is born!)

In Cyrillic: Ваистину се роди!

Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

by Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

Founder of Serbonika

Serbian language teacher and entrepreneur, language lover and polyglot, but also a mother and a relentless storyteller.

On a mission to create the best web space for learning Serbian: Serbonika.



The best method to learn Serbian

Easter in Serbia: Revealing the Diglossic Holiday

Easter in Serbia: the Diglossic Holiday

Easter in Serbia is a fun experience: cracking eggs and saying special greetings. Are you visiting Serbia for Easter Holidays? Learn how to greet your friends and family like a local!

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.]

Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

by Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

Founder of Serbonika

Serbian language teacher and entrepreneur, language lover and polyglot, but also a mother and a relentless storyteller.

On a mission to create the best web space for learning Serbian: Serbonika.


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.


The best method to learn Serbian

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

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


A Christian holiday, but equally important for our history and folk beliefs. Find out why Sretenje is Serbia’s Statehood day and what it traditionally means.



[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.

Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

by Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

Founder of Serbonika

Serbian language teacher and entrepreneur, language lover and polyglot, but also a mother and a relentless storyteller.

On a mission to create the best web space for learning Serbian: Serbonika.



The best method to learn Serbian

New Year Traditions in Serbia: Why We Celebrate Twice

New Year Traditions in Serbia: Why We Celebrate Twice


If you ever dreamed of celebrating Christmas and two New Year twice, Serbia is the best place for that. Do you know why Serbs have two new years? Learn about Christmas and New Year traditions in Serbia, customs, beliefs, greetings.

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! In this post I’ll explain all the basics of the Christmas and New Year traditions in Serbia.

2 Christmas and New Year Traditions in Serbia

In this video you’ll learn all about Christmas and New Year traditions in Serbia. You’ll find out why we double-celebrate, and what are the most important element and practices of the two holidays. Also, you’ll learn how to wish your friends a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year in Serbian.

[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 a 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.

Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

by Magdalena Petrovic Jelic

Founder of Serbonika

Serbian language teacher and entrepreneur, language lover and polyglot, but also a mother and a relentless storyteller.

On a mission to create the best web space for learning Serbian: Serbonika.


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 is born). And the answer to this is „Vaistinu se rodi!“ (Truly he is 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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