Friday, December 20, 2013

Sveti Nikola/Saint Nicholas

Yesterday was Nikoljdan, which celebrates the life of Sveti Nikola (Saint Nicholas): He is the same Saint Nicholas from Turkey who became known as Santa Claus (or in my case, being South African, "Father Christmas"). Sveti Nikola, like his Dutch counterpart, Sinterklaas, is also a favourite of children, because he leaves presents for them in the shoes/stockings laid out for him... He is celebrated almost two weeks later than his Dutch self, due to the discrepancy between Gregorian and Julian calenders (which is also the reason Christmas is in January here).
Nikoljdan is one of the main "slava's" here in the Republic of Srpska. A "slava" is a Saint's day celebration which is a custom only found in Serbian Orthodoxy. I still remember wondering what this strange things called a "slava" was - there are some traditions that are carried out, but basically it is an excuse to gather together with family and friends, eat a lot and (usually) drink even more, and mostly God and the specific saint aren't really remembered...but not always...some families do take it very seriously! Now as I said, Sveti Nikola is one of the big ones, so yesterday it was a ghost town downtown - people are either hosting their own "slava" or going to someone else's!

Nikoljdan also happens to fall during the Christmas "post" (fast) which is the 40 days leading up to Christmas and like for Lent, the Orthodox believers do not partake in animal products (meat, dairy, eggs). So, being during this time, the "slava" should be "posna" (or with only 'fasting food'). This means that if you are invited to one of the meals, you better like fish - because you will get a LOT of it! Fish soup, stuffed cabbage with smoked fish (which is actually really good!), smoked fish, fried fish, baked fish, crumbed fish - you get the idea! It is also amazing for me that during a 'fast' you can still overeat - especially with wonderful Bosnian hosts saying, "Eat more! Come on, you haven't eaten anything! Look there is so much left...etc, etc ..."

Ljilja and I are privileged this year to celebrate with 3 different friends (luckily on 3 different days - as the "slava's" last for up to 3 days), so it is a good thing we like fish!

1 comment:

Victor said...

Very cool. I was just having a conversation about the origins of Santa Clause. Thanks for the succinct history lesson. The post reminds me of advent. I try to do a different advent reading for the 4 weeks (30 days) leading up to Christmas. I am reading a cool one at the moment by Enuma Okoro which focuses on silence. No fasting of course, though. Do you actually fast during the day and break it with a fish feast at night or do you just eat all the time?

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