Pilgrimages and Local Traditions

The main feast days are those of Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints. The Serbian Orthodox Church starts Christmas celebrations forty days ahead of the feast itself. The Serbian Church, like the Churches of Russia and Jerusalem, and most monasteries on Mt Athos, continues to use the Julian calendar. Celebrations begin for Christmas with the forty-day fast, while the last three Sundays of the fast are marked by events popularly called: Children's Day, Mother's Day and Father's Day. The last two days before the feast, which are popularly called Slaying Day and Yule-Log Day or Christmas Eve, are characterized by special preparatory acts before Christmas. It is customary not to sleep on that night, but to wait with vigilant anticipation for the greatest moment -Christ's birth. Yule Log Day and Christmas incorporate several customs, such as the cornel tree, Yule Log Man, the Christmas Eve cake, a strict fast supper, the Christmas cake with golden coin, the first guest of the Christmas day in the person of a young boy, and so on.

Serbian New Year's Day is celebrated on 14 January, according to the Julian calendar. This is the Feast of Circumcision of the Lord and the Feast of St Basil the Great, author of the Holy Liturgy, and the patron of monks. This feast is also popularly called 'Little' or 'Young' Christmas. Other great feasts of faith in the Serbian Orthodox Church are Theophany (19 January), Lazarus Saturday (the Willow Day), Good Friday, Easter Day or Pascha, Ascension of Our Lord or Saviour's Day, Pentecost or Descent of the Holy Spirit. During all of these celebrations certain religious services and liturgies are performed. Easter is still reckoned by the Julian calendar by most of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, which means it does not always coincide with Easter in the West.

Besides attending services at their local church or monastery, the Orthodox faithful are recommended to visit once a year a particular saintly place (especially where there are surviving relics of Serbian saints), such as the monasteries of Studenica, Ostrog, Decani, Ravanica and Hilandar. Pilgrimage to Jerusalem allows the pilgrim to use the special title of haji, which derives from the Arabic word for a pilgrim.

The Serbian Orthodox Church observes single-day fasts (every Wednesday and Friday and certain other days in a year), and seasonal fasts (Great Lent, starting seven weeks before Easter and lasting until Easter Day). There are several degrees of fasting. Fasting seasons normally exclude weddings (except by a special dispensation of the bishop) and all other larger festivals.

The Serbian Orthodox faithful observe a unique holiday called the Baptismal Feast Day or Family Patron Saint Day: Krsna slava. On receiving Christianity through baptism, heads of Serbian families choose a saint from the Christian calendar to be the patron saint of their family. The Baptismal Feast celebration requires: a leavened wheat flour cake, boiled wheat kernels, a beeswax candle and wine. Holy water is usually used in preparing the festal cake and the priest blesses it in the host's home several days ahead of the feast itself. He executes this ceremony by using the appropriate prayer, a cross, and a small bunch of basil flowers. It is necessary to have a consecrated home icon of the saint who is being celebrated. On the very day of the Baptismal Feast, the priest cuts the festal cake, usually in the host's home. The appropriate troparion is sung in honour of the saint, and the priest offers prayers for abundance of grace from the Holy Spirit and God's blessing for the whole household. The head of the household provides for all those who come into his home on that day. The Baptismal Feast is transmitted from generation to generation, from fathers to sons, so that the household does not remain without the festal candle, cake and wheat. If sons move from their father's home, they may celebrate the feast in their own homes, or, alternatively, continue celebrating in their father's home while he is still living.

Aside from the Baptismal Feast, the faithful may choose another saint to celebrate as their co-patron (Preslava) and this saint is celebrated in the same way. This is usually done to offer thanks to a saint who is especially venerated by them for one reason or another.

Besides Baptismal Feast Days, the faithful also celebrate their local church feast, i.e., the feast day of the saint to whom their local church is dedicated. It is customary in country towns and villages to form processions after the Holy Liturgy, and to visit crop fields, stopping beside the so-called 'testament tree', and offering prayers and litanies for a fertile crop and harvest.

Among the significant saints and events celebrated by the Serbian Orthodox are: St Ignatius, 2 January; St Steven, 9 January; Synaxis of St John the Baptist, 20 January; St Sava, 2 7 January; St George, 6 May; St Mark, 8 May; St Vitus, 28 June; Nativity of St John the Baptist, 7 July; St Peter, 12 July; St Ellijah, 2 August; Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross, 2 7 September; Venerable Cyriacus the Anchorite, 12 October; St Thomas, 19 October; Venerable Mother Paraskeva, 2 7 October; St Luke, 31 October; St Demetrius, 8 November; St George, 16 November; Synaxis of Archangel Michael, 21 November; St Alimpius, 9 December; St Nicholas, 19 December.

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