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Feature 20 Apr 14

Serbia Upholds its Easter Egg Traditions

Easter in Serbia does not involve bunnies or chocolate, but it does have its own charm that includes a whole lot of colouring and smashing of eggs.

Gordana Andric
BIRN
Belgrade
 

The central celebration of the season for Serbs is on Easter Sunday, which iscelebrated by Orthodox believers on April 20th, the same day this year as the rest of the Christian world.

For the faithful however, preparations for the holiday start long before Easter itself. Most of them fast for 40 days beforehand, during Lent.

For those less devoted meanwhile, the festivities start on Lazar’s Saturday, April 12th. According to Orthodox believers, this day marks Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem.

This is one of the most beloved church holidays among children, as on the day, church floors are covered with flowers known as vrbica (purple loosestrife). Vrbica is a Serbian version of the palm fronds that children laid down on Jesus’s path while he was entering the holy city.

The priest blesses the flowers and then shares them with the worshippers. Many Serbs make wreaths out of vrbica and place them on their front doors for good luck, while children wear little bells around their necks as a symbol of Jesus’s coming.

Traditional Serbian egg dyeing

A week before the Easter you can find different colourings for eggs in every shop. However, Serbs have an old and natural way of colouring eggs that is still widely used.

For this you need a lot of onion skin, eggs, a spoonful of vinegar and a teaspoon of salt. Depending on the decoration you want, you could use wax, flowers or onion skin itself.

Preparation:

Put the onion skin at the bottom of the pot, place the eggs on it, pour in water and add vinegar and salt. After the water has boiled, turn down the temperature and leave it to boil for another 15 minutes. The eggs will turn a nice caramel colour.

Decorations:

If you want to have some kind of pattern on onion-dyed eggs, there are different options. You could use ordinary wax to draw different patterns on the eggs before boiling them. If you want a floral pattern, find a flower whose shape you like, put it carefully on the eggs, and wrap the flower and egg with nylon tights before boiling it. The shape of the flower will stay on the egg. The third option is to decorate eggs with marbled patterns. In order to achieve this, you should cover the egg with onion skin and wrap it in nylon tights or aluminium foil before putting it in water to boil.

Preparation for Easter Day in Serbia starts on Good Friday, the day when Jesus was caught in the Garden of Gethsemane, tried and sentenced.

While churches across the country perform holy liturgies to mark all the important events that led up to Jesus’s death on the cross, in Serbian tradition it’s a day for boiling and colouring Easter eggs.

Easter eggs in western Europe are often made of chocolate and sold in supermarkets, but this does not apply to Serbia. A real chicken egg, hard-boiled and dyed or decorated, takes the central place in the Easter celebration.

Almost every household, regardless of how religious they are, will paint at least ten eggs on Good Friday. While eggs can be painted any colour using any technique that comes to mind, according to Serbian beliefs, the first set of eggs should be dyed red.

For Serbs, eggs symbolise the eternal life of Jesus and according to some legends, the white eggs Mary left on her son’s grave as a sacrifice turned red after his resurrection.

It is not uncommon to see a red egg somewhere in a Serbian house long after Easter has passed, as Serbs believe that one of the red eggs is supposed to be kept until the next year. This egg is called a ‘housekeeper’ and, as its name suggests, is supposed to guard the home until the next Easter.

Holy liturgies are performed throughout the whole day, and many families attend afternoon mass. The Good Friday Mass is performed in front of a replica of Jesus’s shroud, symbolising the removal the body from the cross. In some churches, believers pass under the shroud after the ceremony and make a wish.

Working hours

Non-working days around Easter in Serbia are April 18, 19, 20 and 21. Public offices will be closed on these dates.

While most shops and markets will be closed on Easter Sunday, April 20, they will be working shortened working hours from 9am to 12pm on April 18, 19 and 21.

Tempo stores, Merkator shopping centre, and Delta City and Usce shopping centres will be closed on Easter Sunday.

Hospitals will work as usual, while four chemists’ shops will be open around the clock: Sveti Sava at Nemanjina Street 2, Prvi Maj at Kralja Milana 9, Bogdan Vujošević at Goce Delceva 30 and Zemun at Glavna 34.

While most post offices will be closed for the holidays, the branch on Takovska Street 2 will be open from 8am to 4pm.

Petrol stations in the city will be open from 6am to 8pm during the holidays, while those at the exits to the city will work 24 hours a day.

Open-air markets will operate as usual on April 18 and 19, while on April 21 they will be working shorter hours from 6am to 1pm. On April 20, most open-air markets will be closed, except for the Zemun, Banovo Brdo, Dušanovac and Gornja Varoš markets that will be open from 6am to 1pm.

 

On Holy Saturdays, women traditionally prepare the meal for the next day, when the fast will be over. Although there are no special dishes that are supposed to be served, the meal is usually rich and attractively presented.

This is also a day for cleaning the house, as according to Serbian beliefs it in not good to do any work save for dyeing eggs on Good Friday.

Many people use specially prepared consecrated water with herbs for cleaning, as it is believed to clean the home not just from dust, but also from bad luck and evil.

As it is all about the eggs on Serbian Easter, Saturday is the day to present them to the public. Competitions to find the most beautifully decorated eggs are held all over the country.

Easter Sunday starts with bells ringing in churches and many families attend morning mass. Serbs also have a special greeting on this day, used by all regardless of whether they are believers or not.

One person greets another with the words “Hristos voskrese” [“Christ is risen”], while the other replies with “Vaistinu voskrese!” [“He has indeed risen!”].

After returning home from church, families have breakfast together and break their fast by eating Easter eggs first. Breakfast starts with a game of ‘tucanje’, which involves people cracking their eggs against each other – top to top, and bottom to bottom.

This tradition also involves competition, as the one whose egg doesn’t break is believed to be blessed by good luck. Competitions are also organised across the country, with most popular being held in the town of Mokrin in the Vojvodina region where hundreds gather to find out whose egg is the strongest.

Others meanwhile spend Easter visiting friends and family, and the obligatory gifts are Easter eggs, given both by hosts and guests.

The Easter celebration among Slavs is believed to have roots in pagan times. The awakening of spring was considered a holy time of year.

According to myths, Slavs traditionally celebrated it in places of natural beauty, such as mountain tops, meadows and thick forests, and the beginning of each new agricultural season was celebrated as the triumph of good over evil.

After they embraced Christianity, Slavs started celebrating Easter as a victory of the divine nature of Christ over the mortal nature of Jesus as a human being.

Even after decades under atheist communist rule, Serbian Easter traditions have not changed and this is one of the rare religious holidays that have not been altered at all.

While both communists and globalization have brought certain changes into Serbian celebration of Christmas, the Easter remains intact. Despite the fact that there are chocolate eggs in the shops, and Easter bunny is not unfamiliar figure, people in Serbia still celebrate Easter their own way.

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