Today is Đurđevdan (St George's Day). It is one of the bigger "Slavas" celebrated by the Serb Orthodox people. A slava is a celebration of the family's patron saint. Each Serb Orthodox family has a patron saint and they celebrate that Saint's day as their "slava". We were supposed to go to celebrate with our friends Damjan and Tanja and their family today, but Ljilja and I both have some lovely tummy bug, so we didn't go :-(
Here the celebrations actually last up to 3 days and so we will be going to the third day of the celebrations at Dragana's on Saturday. This will be my 6th year that I will be going to Dragana's family's slava. Hers was the first slava that I went to way back in 2005! And here the tradition is: if you are invited once to a slava, you are ALWAYS invited :-)
So what is a slava?? Here is a little bit about what happens: To start the celebration, the "slavski kolač" (celebration cake/bread) is broken and wine is spilled over it: to symbolise Jesus' sacrifice on the cross:
The Saint's day candle on the table burns throughout the celebration. It represents the light of the world (Jesus) driving out the forces of darkness.
Another tradition is "Slavsko Žito" or "Celebration Wheat" which is sweetened wheat berries. It is a symbol of sacrifice of thanks to God for the fruits of the earth given to us:
But mostly the celebration just involves lots of food (and drink), usually starting with home made soup, then sarma (stuffed cabbage), followed by pita (pie) and roasted meat and homemade cheese. This is all finished off with cakes (usually a lot of different kinds of small cakes):
As you can imagine it takes a lot of time and effort in order to celebrate a slava (especially over 3 days!). And unfortunately a lot of the time the actual reason for the celebration is forgotten in the midst of all the preparation. Also the original meanings for the symbols become forgotten over time. And truth be told it has become an excuse to eat and drink a lot. I think that St George would probably be quite saddened by some of the ways that people celebrate his day! It would be great if people would remember the real reason for the slavas and why we celebrate the saints: because they were people who followed God with all their heart: and we need to follow their example...