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Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Slava

Today is a special day for me.

On this day, many generations ago, my Serbian ancestors left their pagan roots behind and embraced Christianity. This conversion date is called "Slava", and this distinctly Serbian tradition is a modified pagan custom which is passed down through the generations, forming an integral part of our culture and identity. The saint on who's feast day fell on the conversion date was venerated the family's guardian and patron saint.

Common Slava spread with Kolač (foreground) and Žito (bowl with candle sticking out). This one is set up to honor St. John the Baptist. Pic found here

This day, December 19, is St. Nicholas' Day in the Serbian Orthodox calendar. He is my family's Slava and one of the most popularly celebrated saints, followed by St. Sava, St. Michael the Archangel, St. George, St. John the Baptist, and Prophet Elijah.

Celebrations of Slava involve starting the day with a special church service, where after the Orthodox Liturgy the priest blesses a specially baked bread loaf (Kolač) and a special boiled wheat and nut dish (Žito). The Kolač is made in honor of the family's living relatives using special recipes passed down to the generations, and the Žito is made in honor of the family's dead relatives. After the service, the celebrants go home and celebrate with food, drink, and music.

This hymn is sung when the Kolač is blessed. It commemorates the martyr's sacrifices and Isaiah's prophecies about the coming of Jesus. Of note, it is also sung at weddings when the couple ritually walks around the altar.

What actually goes on when the Kolač is blessed in church. The raising and rotation of the Kolač is done as a symbolic offering to God

I've educated my husband about Slava, and when my children are old enough, they too will learn what it is. No matter how diluted the Serbian bloodline becomes in my descendants, this is one custom that must be passed on.

I may change my name and religion, but I will never forsake my Serbian heritage.

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