Slava – Serbian Tradition of Celebrating Family’s Patron Saint

Tradition of the ritual glorification of one’s family’s patron saint

tpsdave (CC0), Pixabay

When the autumn comes, Slavic people are getting ready for the winter, preparing ajvar, kompot, and other divine foods. But, besides those preparations, autumn for Serbs means something else. It is the period when Slavas begin. If you are wondering what Slava is, here you can find out everything.

If a Serb invites you to come to his home for Slava, consider self an honored guy! This event is very important among Serbs and it represents a tradition that dates from the old days when Slavs accepted Christianity, but part of them still remembered the old pagan gods. Those gods were later on turned into Christian Saints. Slava is one of the most important characteristics of Serbian tradition and it is even inscribed in UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.

What is Slava?

The Slava is celebrated annually and it is transferred from generation to generation. It is meant to be celebrated at home, gathering family and friends in one place. Serbs use Slava as a great opportunity to meet and get together with people they don’t see too often (godfathers, relatives, grandparents).

Sons inherit the patron saint from their fathers and women from their husbands. Some patron saints can be celebrated two times a year, the main day is called Slava, while the secondary day is called preslava. Slava is a part of Serbian identity and all Serbs say Slava is one of the most important days in the year. Even when they are not living in Serbia, Serbs celebrate Slava all over the world.

There are four elements that need to be on the table during Slava and those elements are Slava cake, candle, red wine and cooked wheat. Each of these elements represents something in the Christianity – Slava cake represents Christ’s body, wine is his blood, cooked wheat represents Christ’s resurrection and the candle is a symbol of Christ as the light of the world.

Feast During Slava

The family that celebrates usually prepares an enormous feast with a lot of food such as sarma, roasted pigs, and lambs, followed by Olivier salad (it’s called Russian salad in Serbian cuisine) and confectioneries.

They drink wine, beer, and rakija and they drink a lot. This is the time when the whole family gathers (it doesn’t matter if you celebrate the same patron saint, you can go to your friend’s Slava only for a few minutes).

Some Slava feasts can be only made out of food that is either all animal-except-fish/seafood-free (posno, and that includes sweets which are also obligatorily made without eggs and dairy), while others are made out of meat, eggs, and dairy. All of this depends on the period of time and fasting.

Most Common Slavas

These are just some of the patron saints and their days: St. Nicholas (Nikoljdan, 19 December), St. George (Đurđevdan, 6 May), St. John the Baptist (Jovanjdan, 20 January), St. Demetrius (Mitrovdan, 8 November), St. Michael (Aranđelovdan, 21 November) and St. Sava (Savindan, 27 January).

What is interesting is that not only people, but cities, organizations, companies, schools and other institutions can also have their patron saints and celebrate Slava. For example, all schools in Serbia celebrate St. Sava as their patron saint.

So, if you just meet some Serbian folks and they invited you to their Slava, you should know that is a big honor. Come with a bottle of wine and prepare yourself for a good time with tasty food and friendly people.

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