Serbs, Traditions and customs

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The Serbs (, ) are a South Slavic nation and ethnic group native to the Balkans.


The Slava is exclusive custom of the Serbs, each family lineage has one patron saint that they venerate on their feast day. The term Slava means a grand Celebration of a Serbian family's patron saint. Unlike most customs that are common for the whole people, each family separately celebrates its own saint (of course, there is a lot of overlap) who is considered its protector. A Slava is traditionally inherited from father to son (if a family has no son and a daughter stays in parental house and her husband moves in, her Slava, not his, is celebrated). Like with surnames, Slava also indicated origin/region of Serbian heritage. The old custom was that the Slava, this grand celebration, is celebrated at the father's house. When he passes or when he deems it appropriated, the father will pass the torch to the first born son who then continues the tradition of celebration at his house and all family and friends visit him on his Slava day. Therefore, each family has only one saint it celebrates, which means that the occasion brings all of the family together. The most celebrated saints include Saint Nicholas (there is a saying that on Saint Nicholas Day, half of the Serbs celebrate slava while the other half goes to those who celebrate that feast day), Saint John the Baptist, Saint George, Saint Archangel of Gabriel, Archangel Michael and Saint Sava.

Serbs have their own customs regarding Christmas. Early in the morning of Christmas Eve, the head of the family would go to a forest in order to cut badnjak, a young oak, the oak tree would then be brought into the church to be blessed by the priest. Then the oak tree would be stripped of its branches with combined with wheat and other grain products would be burned in the fireplace. The burning of the badnjak is a ritual which is most certainly of pagan origin and it is considered a sacrifice to God (or the old pagan gods) so that the coming year may bring plenty of food, happiness, love, luck and riches. Nowad


ays, with most Serbs living in towns, most simply go to their church service to be given a small parcel of oak, wheat and other branches tied together to be taken home and set afire. The house floor and church is covered with hay, reminding worshippers of the stable in which Jesus was born. Christmas is not associated with presents like in the West, although it is the day of Saint Nicholas, the protector saint of children, to whom presents are given. However, most Serbian families give presents on New Year's Day. Santa Claus (Deda Mraz (literally meaning Grandpa Frost)) and the Christmas tree (but rather associated with New Year's Day) are also used in Serbia as a result of globalisation.

On Orthodox Easter, Serbs have the tradition of Slavic Egg decorating.

The traditional Serbian dance/folklore is a circle dance called kolo. It is a collective dance, where a group of people (usually several dozen, at the very least three) hold each other by the hands or around the waist dancing, forming a circle (hence the name), semicircle or spiral. All ages, male and female alike all join in and dance kolo.

Serbian folk attire varies, mostly because of the very diverse geography and climate of the territory inhabited by the Serbs. Some parts of it are, however, common:

  • A traditional shoe that is called the opanak. It is recognizable by its distinctive tips that spiral backward. Each region of Serbia has a different kind of tips.
  • A traditional hat that is called the šajkača. It is easily recognizable by its top part that looks like the letter V or like the bottom of a boat (viewed from above), after which it got its name. It gained wide popularity in the early 20th century as it was the hat of the Serbian army in the First World War. It is still worn everyday by some villagers today. However, the "šajkača" is still worn everyday by some villagers today in the region of Šumadija and Western Serbia, while Serbs living in Southern and Eastern Serbia, Vojvodina as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Croatia had different types of traditional hats, which are not similar to "šajkača".

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External Links

  • WikipediaProject Rastko – Serbian cultural and historical research societyArticles about the Serbs by Westerners

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