Slava is a custom mostly related to orthodox people in Balkan Peninsula. Not all orthodox people celebrate it.
This is one very old custom, centuries old. It is still not completely clear how people even started celebrating it and why. But it is for sure that is very important and that’s being transferred from one generation to another.
Even though there are not clear evidences how Slava appeared there are some assumptions. Since Slava as a celebration is related mostly to Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians we’ll start from these people.
Slava was first mentioned somewhere in the 11th century (1018). There are some authors that believe that this custom appeared in the 9th century when people were baptized (they stopped being pagans and were baptized).
There are believes that the day of mass baptism was the day of the saint protector and each tribe accepted some saint. Others claim that saint protector only replaced previous pagan god. Whatever truly happened, the fact is that this custom remained tremendously important until today.
In the 13th century, Sveti Sava (Saint Sava) canonized these old customs and directed clergy to give them Christian emblem.
After all this time, Slava is still highly respected custom that’s being celebrated independent on material and life situation.
What is Slava
It is a folk tradition accepted by church. Slava is mostly characteristic for Serbs that it sort of became a part of national identity and something that makes them recognizable all over the world. It is one of three most important religious holidays, right after Christmas and Easter. It even stands as cultural immaterial mark protected by UNSCO.
As it is related to Orthodox people, besides in Serbia, Slava is being celebrated in some part of Macedonia and in Montenegro. But it is a bit present with Catholics in Boka Kotorska, Dalmatia, south Herzegovina, Bosansko grahovo and even with catholic Albanians. But, in most of these places Slava exists only in traces, not the way it’s really celebrated.
How it’s being celebrated
There are parts of this celebration that are the same in every part. Those are a candle, ritual bread and zito (a dish prepared of boiled wheat, mixed with sugar and chopped nuts). Traditionally, ritual bread is prepared evening before Slava and brought to the church next morning. On the top of the bread called “slavski kolac” there is the Christian cross, the peace dove and other decorations. In church, a priest cuts the bread making a cross on the down side of kolac and pours a little red wine over that cross. After this, a priest and the father of the house “break bread” together. It’s not unsual that the parish priest visits a house that celebrates just before this celebration and blesses the house and people that live in it.
The Slava is very important family celebration, custom passed on from one generation to another. On that day people celebrate their saint protector. Family is together, doing everything mutually. It has tremendous importance for all the people who celebrate and respect this custom. This is a very special day in every house. If you have never been to this event we recommend you to do it. That kind of love, respect and hospitality you’ll hardly experience in some other place!
There is a big feast prepared with a lot of food and drink. What will be served depends on the time of year when people celebrate this custom. If it’s during the fasting there won’t be any meat products, eggs, or dairy products. But seafood and fish meat are welcome. If Slava is not in the time of fasting, meat is obligatory (sheep meat, chicken, goat meet or pork). And of course, there are a lot of candies, handmade by the woman of the house!
The candle is burning all day and hosts don’t sit, serve and entertain their guests.
There are other customs related to Slava that differ from place to place but these we mentioned above are mutual.
The most common Slavas
There are many Slavas celebrated throughout the year but some are celebrated by great number of people.
The biggest are St.Jovan (celebrated on 20th January) and St. Nicolas (celebrated on 19th December). There is a saying that everyone celebrates these Slavas-half people celebrates and half goes to someone’s house as a guest.
St. Mihail, St. George, St. Luka, St. Dimitrije are just some more celebrated by great number of people.