News 12 Jan 13

Serbia Declares Orthodox New Year a Public Holiday

For the first time in almost a century Serbs will have a day off to celebrate their New Year.

Gordana Andric
BIRN
Belgrade

The authorities have declared January 14, or January 1 according to the Serbian Orthodox Church’s official Julian calendar, a non-working public holiday. This will be the first time that Serbia officially marks this day since the country adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1918.

After the Serbian state adopted the Gregorian calendar, the Church continued to use the old Julian one and since then New Year has been celebrated twice each year.

The Gregorian calendar was introduced in the 16th century by Pope Gregory XIII to fix a ‘mistake’ in the Julian calendar.

The Julian calendar assumed that the time between vernal equinoxes was 365.25 days - 11 minutes longer than it actually is. These extra 11 minutes meant that every 400 years there was about three days’ difference between the calendar and real time.

At the point when Pope Gregory XIII introduced the change, the difference amounted to 10 days.  

While most Catholic countries quickly switched to the new calendar, others only followed centuries later.

In Serbia in the 1920s, when the new calendar was introduced, people in the countryside rarely marked New Year’s Eve, either Gregorian or Julian. For them the main holiday was Christmas, which Serbs celebrated according to the Julian calendar, on January 7.

However, for people in urban areas the calendar change meant they started celebrating New Year’s Eve on both January 1 and 14.

Until World War II, the two New Year’s Eves were marked in a similar fashion – at balls where people ate pork and played tombola.

When the Communists took over after the war, Orthodox New Year was suppressed, along with other religious holidays, as a celebration that endangered the ‘brotherhood and unity’ of Yugoslavia.

However, some Serbs, especially those who were religious or who rebelled against the regime, continued celebrating Orthodox New Year.

Hiding from neighbours who might report them to the authorities, they celebrated Orthodox New Year’s Eve quietly in their homes with candles, so that the light wouldn’t attract the attention of regime informers.

Some would go out to restaurants and kafanas where police would come to turn off the music half an hour before midnight, asking the owners to close up for the night.

However, after the owners switched their lights off, guests would light up candles and stay at their tables until midnight. If they didn’t cause any trouble, the police had no justification to intervene.

After the communist regime collapsed and nationalism rose across Yugoslavia, Serbs once again started celebrating Orthodox New Year. In recent years some have celebrated it in the same way as New Year’s Eve – by partying.

Across the country clubs, bars and restaurants organise Orthodox New Year’s Eve parties with food and live music, but entrance tickets and reservations are much cheaper than those sold for December 31 events.

In recent years, due to the economic situation, public concerts have either not been staged in cities or are far more modest than they used to be.

However, hundreds of people gather in Belgrade in front of Saint Sava Temple each year to see midnight fireworks and attend a liturgy.

Orthodox New Year - which Serbs often call Serbian New Year - is also celebrated in Macedonia, parts of Bosnia, Montenegro, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova and parts of Ukraine.

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