Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Christmas in Bosnia...

 Last week we went to Bosnia just in time for Christmas....again! They celebrate on the 7th of January in accordance to the Juliane calender. We had been invited to our friends house, The Tadic family, for Christmas Day dinner. We were so honored that they thought enough of us to invite us to such a special day. We were even more surprised when Vickie called the day before and asked if we would please come to Christmas Eve dinner as well, they wanted to show us the traditions of the Serbian Orthodox people! Wow! two wonderful occasions to see how another culture celebrates the birth of the Savior.
   As we came across the boarder into Bosnia, the streets were jammed packed with traffic. They always are a little congested, but this was pretty bad. We kept hearing what we thought was gun shots or really LOUD firecrackers...and then we saw this up ahead.
Are we in a parade?
This passed us by and then we realized that there were several tractors with trailers like this one still coming down the street, and then one turned off the street from our lane as well, now we knew why the traffic was such a mess.
We were in a parade!

  We had read about the Badnjak Tree, but never dreamed of anything like this. How lucky was it that we went through the boarder just in time to be in the parade and see this amazing sight? For those of you who are not up on the Badnjak Tree Tradition here is a little background for you.

Early in the morning (Christmas Eve morning) the head of each family, usually accompanied by several male relatives, selects and fells the tree from which the log will be cut for their household. The group announces its departure by firing guns or small celebratory mortars called prangija.The Turkey oak is the most popular species of tree selected in most regions, but other oaks, or less frequently other kinds of tree, are also chosen.Generally, each household prepares one badnjak, although more are cut in some regions.


When the head of household finds a suitable tree, he stands in front of it facing east. After throwing grain at the tree, he greets it with the words "Good morning and happy Christmas Eve to you", makes the Sign of the Cross, says a prayer, and kisses the tree. He then cuts it slantwise on its eastern side, using an axe. Some men put gloves on before they start to cut the tree, and from then on never touch the badnjak with their bare hands. The tree should fall to the east, unhindered by surrounding trees. Its top is removed, leaving the badnjak of such a length that allows it to be carried on a man's shoulder, up to about 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) long. Once in the home, each badnjak is leaned vertically against the house beside the entrance door.
In the evening, a man of the family brings their badnjak into the house. If there is more than one badnjak, the thickest of them is regarded as the main one, and is brought in first. Stepping across the threshold, right foot first, the man greets his gathered family with the words "Good evening and happy Christmas Eve to you." The woman of the house greets him back, saying "May God give you well-being, and may you have good luck", or "Good luck to you, and together with you for many years to come [may we be]", or similar, before throwing grain from a sieve at the man and the badnjak he carries.


Upon entering the house the man approaches the fireplace, called ognjište.. He lays the badnjak down on the fire and moves it a little forward, to summon prosperity for the household. Any other logs are brought in by other males and laid on the fire parallel or perpendicular to the first.The head of the household takes a jug of wine and pours some on the badnjak; in some regions, he may strew wheat grains over the logs. He then proposes a toast: "Grant, O God, that there be health and joy in this home, that our grain and grapevines yield well, that children be born healthy to us, that our property increase in the field, pen, and barn!"  The head drinks a draught of wine from the jug, after which it is passed to other members of household.

The moment when the badnjak burns through may be marked with festivities, such as the log being kissed by the head of household, and wine being poured over it accompanied by toasts. A reward may be given to the family member who was the first to notice the event, and in the past the men would go outside and fire their guns in celebration. Once the log has burnt through, some families let the fire go out, while in others the men keep watch in shifts during the night to keep the badnjak burning.

We also learned that each Cathedral has tree large trees brought to it by parishioners, then sometime in the late afternoon those three trees are ceremoniously lit on fire and there is a big celebration at the church.
This is what we found ourselves involved in when we came across the boarder. The trees were going to the local Cathedrals, There were two churches in this little town. Every thing is done in threes here, representing of course God, The Father, Jesus Christ and The Holy Ghost. So three trees went to each church.

Another type of the badnjak that has developed among the Serbs has mostly replaced the traditional log, whose burning is usually unfeasible in modern homes. It is a cluster of oak twigs with their brown leaves still attached, with which the home is decorated on the Eve. This cluster is also called the badnjak, and it is usually kept in the home until next Christmas Eve. For the convenience of those living in towns and cities, such little badnjaks can be bought at marketplaces or distributed in churches.

Since the early 1990s the Serbian Orthodox Church has, together with local communities, organized public celebrations on Christmas Eve. There are typically three elements to such celebrations: the preparation, the ritual, and the festivity. The preparation consists of cutting down the tree to be used as the badnjak, taking it to the church yard, and preparing drink and food for the assembled parishioners. The ritual includes Vespers, placing the badnjak on the open fire built in the church yard, blessing or consecrating the badnjak, and an appropriate program with songs and recitals. In some parishes they build the fire on which to burn the badnjak

 The Serbian name for Christmas is Božić, the diminutive form of the noun bog, meaning 'god'; Božić can be thus translated as Young God.

As we went along our way into Banja Luka we noticed oak trees at every house. It was so fun to put together what we had read with what was going on around us. Then to our great surprise when we got to our house we found out that our land lord had placed a badnjak in our front yard for us! We had our very own tree!!
Jim and our Badnjak Tree.

Badnjak Tree at our Bosnian Hosts


That evening we went to our friends house and enjoyed a wonderful traditional dinner. They stood as they prayed, then they brought a piece of  fire from the badnjak tree and put it in an incense burner that smoked, the Grandma, being the oldest gave everyone an opportunity to bring the smoke closer to their face, with three quick movements in succession they waved the smoke into each face until it went all around the table.
The evening was a fast dinner so it consisted of  everything that they produced themselves from their family garden, with the exception of little fish with heads still on them, (they told me I didn't have to eat the heads, but I noticed that they all ate the whole fish) potato pie, beans, squash pie, potato salad, and a special bread that was beautiful and delicious. Grandma brought it in, everyone stood and with every ones hands on the bread it was turned, once, lifted up in the air, turned again, lifted up, and then lifted up a third time and then broken apart. Jim got a coin in his part of bread which meant he was going to be lucky all year! It was then that we told them that it was his birthday and they all clapped and said Happy Birthday and Good Luck to you! During their fast times they are prohibited to eat any meat other than fish, any milk products or eggs.

The center piece is made out a planter with wheat grass growing in it and a gold candle, promising prosperity for the coming year.

Our Friends the Tadic Family. This was taken Christmas Day so the Father was not there, he had to work.
No holiday pay,  just lucky to have a job.  I love the candle glowing in the picture, they are so kind have have a wonderful "glow" about them, We will always have wonderful memories of our Bosnian Christmas with them!

Christmas Day we went over about 1:30 in the afternoon and once again enjoyed another feast this time including meat, pork and chicken, cheese and wonderful desert cakes.

This is Sarma...A traditional main dish, made of ground pork, rice and spices, wrapped in sour cabbage, with a yummy sauce that it is cooked in. Sometimes it is served with mashed potatoes or with cornmeal mush.
Now, least you all think that all we do is eat and play. Let me assure you that we really are doing some work. About a week after our Christmas we were able to take a wheelchair to a little family that has a five year old daughter that has cerebral palsy, she cannot walk and has limited brain function. She is getting big enough that to carry her around was starting to be a real burden for her parents. Our translator Predrag is hopelessly in love with this little girls cousin Jovana, and he asked if there was anything we could do to help. So of course we went to the Red Cross and asked for a 12" wheelchair. They gratefully agreed since we had just given them 250 wheelchairs.

What a wonderful afternoon we experienced. Here are a few pictures, but there is no way to capture the amazing feeling that we had, seeing this little girl get her very first "wheels" , seeing the little brother excited to push her around and realizing how grateful the family was for our churches humanitarian efforts. Wow! Just a great day!

Milica and her family.

Jim and the father putting it together.

A few adjustments...

And here is our little princess in her new set of "wheels"! She went to the doctor this last week to have an insert custom made to help her keep her body straight in the chair and her head supported.

Jovana and Milica's little brother. Is it any wonder that our translator is gaga over this girl? She is a darling girl, and really, although she looks like she is 12, she is 21 years old.

This is our Bosnian translator, Predrag

After all the excitement settled down a bit, our little host family invited us to lunch, we loved spending just a little more time with them and getting to know them a little bit more. We noticed however that Jovana's parents, had disappeared and when we asked where they went we were informed that they had gone home to prepare for us to come visit them! So after lunch we went to their house to have "sweets", and tea. I'm learning to like the herbal teas they have here but the sweets take no getting used to, they were delicious.
We loved getting to know this family as well and they invited us back for lunch the day after Christmas...sooo, here we are at another Christmas Feast!

This is the Aunt and Uncle of our little Milica.

Jovana is a twin and each of the girls decorated a salad for us. So cute!

Jovana and Predrag and amazing food with wonderful new friends. Jovanas dad said he was going to join our church and come to Salt Lake City on a mission! The gold candle again, only this time it had the colors of the Bosnian flag. We also had Sarma again and if any of you are wondering, yes the diet started on Monday!
If you are interested in reading more about the customs of the Serbian/Bosnian Christmas Traditions this is a good link. Try This
We are not going to Bosnia this week-end, but are traveling to Osijek, Croatia tomorrow. Hopefully to make a few new contacts and do a little project development.

2 comments:

sara said...

i don't know how i got so behind on your blog- but I love this post! that little girl in her wheelchair is so darling, what a blessing. now i need to keep reading and catch up with the rest of the posts :)

Hitch-Hikers Handbook said...

Great post, very informative! We are running a Christmas photo challenge at the moment by which we hope to gather photos and descriptions of Christmas traditions from all around the world. If you'd like to participate, write a couple of sentences about Christmas in your country or in Bosnia, send us a photo to represent it and we will publish the best entries on our blog with a link to your site. Sounds good? :) Here you will find more details: http://hitchhikershandbook.com/2013/12/21/christmas-traditions-around-the-world-photo-challenge/
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year! :)