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How to welcome the new Year like a Slav

Except listening to legendary “Novi God” song, few more things:

Photo: Strelovata "Novi God"

It’s New Year’s Eve, and all over the world there are last-minute preparations for the “craziest night in the year”, as we like to call it. It really shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point that Slavs do it in their own unique way, and that, even though there are youths who stray from traditions and make their grandmothers cry, the overwhelming majority still stay true to the true spirit of Slavic New Year. And by true spirit, I of course mean!

Sarma

Unless you have been exposed to Slavic customs and eclectic cuisine since you were little, some dietary habits might seem strange to you, the poor outsider. Like sarma. Now, I have already mentioned my special love and not-so-stellar attempts at making it, and I’m getting better though, I promise, but I have yet to create that perfect sarma which can, and should be eaten for 9 days. The younger crowd will have the sarma prepared for them by a more experienced family member, and placed lovingly in a cold pantry, or if you are a city child, outside on the balcony to keep cold.

You need sarma for New Year, trust me. It’s a meal, it’s a hangover cure, it’s a digestive aid, and it is traditional. It is also very funny to try to eat it inebriated.

Some more food

But of course, you can’t serve just sarma at your New Year’s party. You need to have something to nibble on, like a roast piglet, because people get hungry, and even if the party is for 6 people and you will have to eat it for the next 5 days for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you need to make sure everyone gets their favourite cut at the New Year’s Eve table. The Olivier (or Russian, or French, depending on where in the Slavic world you are) salad is also another staple during the holidays. It could, and perhaps should warrant its own point on this list, but even though it is the glue which binds the holiday table together, it is still classified as a side dish or salad. Having the above-mentioned roast pork? Have some Olivier salad. Decided on cold cuts and cheese and crispy-baked bread? Have some Olivier salad on the side! Is it a teenage party with sandwiches and chips? Of course there’s Olivier salad, we’re not barbarians.

“What, you don’t like Olivier salad? Oh, that’s just because you haven’t tried our recipe yet!”- Every Slav ever.

You will also need a plate of cold cuts (about 7 types of different cured meats, and 2 kinds of cheese, because we don’t want to get too wild), some bread (which kind depends on both where you are and what kind of image you are trying to project), and pickled everything. Olives too, because you are being fancy.

Cakes

Now, if you are a True Slav TM, you probably have enough biscuits and Christmas cookies prepared ahead to feed a small army. This is right and should be done so. It might give you a slight sense of panic, you might be intimidated by the mountains of pastries around your house, and even try to get rid of some of them by taking them over to the neighbour’s or friend’s place, and this is also right and should be done so, but you will probably just come back with your plate full of their cakes. They are also overrun by holiday cakes, want to show off their baking skills a little, and, the most important reason – it’s insulting to bring back an empty plate. What are we, poor?

Alcohol, and then some more alcohol

And now comes the most important part of every New Year’s celebration – The drinks. You want mulled wine, because it’s traditional. There should be a gigantic pot of it somewhere on the stove, and ingredients should just liberally be added by the hosts (or sometimes guests) to make sure it never gets below half-full. Of course, you will need about a case of beer for every two males in the house, and a bottle or three of some kind of spirits. Don’t overdo it on the spirits though. Similar to the female exchange of baked goods, good and proper menfolk guests will bring their own bottle of rakija as a gift, and also to compare who made the better one this year, or three years ago, or five, if you are really good friends.  The women might join in, or decline in favour of their own home-made liqueurs, which mostly all feature that same rakija as a base, but have sugars, fruits, chocolate or cream added. Be careful when trying those. They probably kick even harder than the pure stuff.

Did a war just start?

Ah, the final and most important part of every New Year’s celebration. The pyrotechnics. Most slaves complain that they are actually rather poor, and don’t have that much money and oh everything is so expensive…but then they go and spend as much money on fireworks and firecrackers for those 15 minutes to feed their families for almost a month. If you don’t look out your window at midnight, you might think that a war broke out, because, unlike most of the world, which prefers fireworks, with their giant blooming fire flowers up in the sky, Slavs believe in more…. bang for your buck. Firecrackers as thick as my little finger are sold as a matter of fact to schoolchildren everywhere, and the smell of gunpowder marks the entire last week of December. Family pets of a gentler nature hide behind toilets and refuse to go out after dark, and war veterans suddenly remember to call their doctors and renew their prescriptions. The older population also gets to purchase what can only be labelled as small to medium military ordnance (and in some parts of the Slavic world, they might very well still be live ammo), and it is all waiting for the stroke of midnight. And then you can really let loose!

Listen to Novi God

The New Year must be welcomed with a lot of noise, to drive away the evil spirits and bad luck from the previous year. Just don’t forget to actually let go of that firecracker as thick as a toilet paper roll once you light it.

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