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Feature 29 Apr 16

Celebrating Easter, Serbian Style

The happiest Christian holiday is just around the corner with lots of colourful eggs, fasting, feasting, family time – and plenty of timetested Serbian traditions.

Ivana Nikolic, Nemanja Cabric, Filip Avramovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Apart from breaking eggs, Easter is all about family and friends. Photo: Beta

Hristos Vaskrese! Vaistinu Vaskrese!

If you happen to spend May 1 in Serbia, you are going to hear these words quite a lot. Those are the words you use to greet others when you see them on Orthodox Easter. Christ Resurrected! Indeed Resurrected!

Easter, the day when Jesus conquered death and was resurrected, thus inspiring hope of eternal life among Christians, is among the most joyful holidays in Orthodox Christianity.

The holiday is especially welcome because it comes in spring, coinciding most years with warmer weather and the awakening of nature.

In Serbia, Easter means lots of traditions: spending time with your loved ones, fasting, colouring eggs and praying. For some, it starts 40 days before the holiday with a fast that lasts until Easter itself. During that period, observant members of the Orthodox church don’t eat animal products. The period is intended to purify Christians’ bodies and minds. That is how they prepare themselves for the communion that takes place on the morning of Easter Sunday.

The final preparations are made on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Maundy Thursday is spent at home, doing chores, while the following day is one of the saddest in the Christian calendar.

Things to do in Belgrade

If you are staying in Belgrade over the Easter weekend – April 30 and May 1 – make sure to bring umbrellas and waterproof clothes, as the weather forecast is far from nice. It will most probably rain with few sunny intervals. Temperatures might go from 10 to 19 degrees. According to the latest forecast, it will be partly sunny on April 30th and raining on May 1.

Another problem is that everything will be closed on May 1, so make the best use of business you can on April 30. You will still be able to go to cafes and restaurants, as many will operate normally.

If the forecasts are wrong and the sun comes out, pack a May Day picnic and head for Avala and Kosmaj mountains or the parks at Topcider or Kosutnjak.

 

Good Friday is when Jesus was caught in the Garden of Gethsemane, tried and sentenced.

Holy liturgies are performed throughout Serbia on Good Friday to mark all of the important events that led up to Christ’s death on the cross. The dawn liturgy marks the time when he was caught. The first hour marks his arrival before Pontius Pilate. The third hour marks the moment when Jesus was sentenced. The sixth hour refers to the time Jesus spent on the cross, while the final evening liturgy marks the removal of Jesus’ body from the cross.

Good Friday is a widely observed day of fasting. Fish, potatoes, baked beans and lots of vegetables are on the menu, as well as certain sweets.

Eggs all around

Egg-dying inevitably leads to Easter’s second most loved activity: the Easter morning egg war! Photo: Beta

Children and adults look forward to the Easter tradition of dying eggs. Mothers, grandmothers and daughters gather on Good Friday boil and dye eggs, while the whole family participates in decorating them.

You might well wonder how eggs came to be associated with Easter and how dyed eggs became a central part of the holiday tradition.

Eggs symbolise the eternal life Jesus promises to believers. Eggs were originally dyed exclusively in red, as the symbol of life. It is believed that this custom comes from Mary Magdalene, who according to legend took eggs painted red to the Roman Emperor Tiberius when it became known that Christ was resurrected.

It is easy to decorate eggs with stickers, but the real skill is decorating eggs the Serbian way with onion skins and flowers. This demanding task is usually performed by grandmothers, who stick to the traditional ways of colouring eggs.

Here are some hints in case you want to try it out. If you want your eggs to be purple, you then use red onion skins.

If you want them brown, then use black onion skins. You put the onion skins in a pot, pour hot water over them, and put eggs inside. Before boiling eggs you can also apply flowers, clover or parsley leaves. Stick them to the eggs and wrap them up in a nylon sock before adding the eggs to the pot. What you will get in the end is purple or brown egg with a nice flower silhouette on it.

Egg-dying inevitably leads to Easter’s second most loved activity: the Easter morning egg war! Everyone picks a favourite egg and compares its strength by smashing one egg against the other. The surviving egg is the champion.

Eggs that survive the wars are often given as presents. People traditionally visit their families, friends and neighbours carrying eggs as a gift. Don’t be surprised if the people you visit press their own eggs into your hand as you leave. No one leaves the house emptyhanded!

The most important egg is the very first one that is dyed, always a red one. Traditionally, it is held throughout the year, right until the next year’s Easter. Some families rub the red egg onto their children’s cheeks as a means of protecting health. In some parts of Serbia, a tradition is to bury it in a field so to protect crops.

Easter day


Working hours

Orthodox Easter happens to fall on May Day this year. May Day is International Workers’ Day in Serbia. Many businesses close for Easter and many more close for May Day. This year, we can expect a great many business to be closed or at least to be open for shorter hours. Make sure to check for updated information on what will be closed and when, as most stores will have shortened work hours. Major markets in Belgrade will be closed, as well as shopping malls. Most pharmacies will be closed, but on-duty pharmacies will be open all day. On-call pharmacies are located at Nemanjina 2, Kralja Milana 9, Goce Delceva 30, Glavna 30 and Dr. Djordja Kovacevica 27.

 

Apart from breaking eggs, Easter is all about family and friends. Traditionally, Easter is time to forget the year’s quarrels and misunderstandings.

One Easter-day custom is especially widespread in southern Serbia. It’s called “komka” – a communion taken at home. In one bowl, nettle, geranium, cornel and the Easter cake are soaked in wine. The host of the house holds the bowl while standing on the doorstep next to the hatchet. Family members then step on the hatchet and take part of komka from the host. Each family member jumps as far as he can from the doorstep so they chase away demons and bad luck from their homes.

People at liturgies. Photo: Beta

Some families also keep the tradition of washing their faces with water infused with a red egg, basil, geranium and cornel. As you see, it all depends on the customs inherited from earlier generations.

While Good Friday is reserved for fasting, it is the opposite when Easter day comes. Then the whole family enjoys food and sweets, everything they were deprived of for the past several days. In Serbia, the second day of Easter is also celebrated, and is called “the second day of Easter.”

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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