Slava – The Serbian Orthodox symbol of the guest, the host, and the food
Slava in Serbian customs is the way of celebrating saints that every house respects. Once a year the family gathers and celebrates with lots of food, drinks, and friends. This gathering attracts relatives, but also those who accidentally meet in that house, a friend of a friend, a casual traveler like you, or colleagues from work.
Slava in this occasion is the word for celebration, jubilation, rejoicing, but in accurate translation into English means “glory.” That is also true because rejoicing is for the glory of the saint that family respects.
If you’re looking for an easy way to describe it, you can say it’s a celebration, a feast, a love for relatives and friends, positive thoughts and delicious food.
Not all Orthodox Christians celebrate their Slava
The celebration of the saints in a family is not a custom that all Orthodox nations have. In addition to the Serbian Orthodox Church, there is more like it as is Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Romania and Ecumenical Church of Constantinople, but Slava is a recognizable symbol only present in the Serbs.
„Where there is Slava, there is a Serb“ – Serbian saying
You have to say “Srećna Slava domaćine!” to your host
The host and his family are waiting for guests at the entrance to the house or the gate. When you come to Serbia and enter the home where Slava is celebrated today, it is good to say “Srećna Slava domaćine!”. That means: “My host, I wish you a happy celebration!”. Also, do not say that quietly. Say it so that everyone who is here can hear what you said.
The host is the head of the house, the oldest member, the father of the family. First hand it to him, then with his wife, and then to the children. Meet the whole family. You can also be greeted with all the guests who are already there.
The Serbs are kissing three times when they are greeted. Perhaps this seems strange and superfluous, but it is associated with Orthodox faith and Holy Trinity (three).
Candle, bread, wine, wheat, and hospitality
When you step into the house, you will see a ceremonial candle, an icon of the saint – protector of the home, the ceremonial bread, and ceremonial wheat which signifies the resurrection of Jesus Christ and ancestors.
The most respected family members sit in the most respected places but do not be surprised if they put you as a stranger in the primary place to show you respect and hospitality.
You will see that the candle burns all day, you will try ceremonial bread and wheat. It is a nice gesture not to refuse bread and wheat because they are symbols of Slava.
Delicious food on the table
There are two types of menus. In days of fasting, Serbs prepare fish specialties, food without animal meat, cakes without eggs and milk. All other days, it is allowed to eat and cook specialties with boiled, roasted or grilled meat. That includes eggs and milk for cakes.
Slava is the custom for thousand of years old, and in time, many specialties of both types of food were created. At the beginning of the dinner, first, the appetizer is placed on the table. That include various types of dried and salted meat, ham, prosciutto, salami, dried sausages, several types of cheese, spicy vegetable salads, boiled eggs and fresh cheese.
In days of fasting, the appetizer menu is shorter but still tasty. This is where boiled dense beans comes with a delicious dressing of oil, chopped garlic, and parsley. Mushrooms of various types, salted pies, and rich salads.
After the appetizer usually comes soup, goulash (a stew of meat and vegetables, seasoned with paprika and other spices), sarma (filling of meat or rice wrapped in cabbage leaves), paprika filled with meat and rice mixture, other various specialties, but it’s still not the main dish.
The main dish on the table is clean, quality and carefully prepared meat. Meat prepared in Serbia is mostly meat of pork, lamb, or yolk in one piece. This meat is baked on a spit, in low heat for 4-6 hours. In this way, it gets an excellent baked meat, with crispy and salty crust (during roasting, the meat is sprinkled with beer or salt water). In days of fasting, fish specialties are cooked and this includes various types of fish, cooked, smoked and roasted catfish, trout, carp, pike and other river fish.
After the main course and a lot of meat comes dessert. Cakes in Serbia are sweet, with lots of films (several types) and rich in calories. It is customary to prepare several types of cakes so that guests can choose. Be sure to try each of it and compliment the hostess.
Winter is coming together with Slava
During the year there are hundreds of saints, but the most of the Slava celebrations occur during the winter. Dates and saints that are most common are: November 8th Sveti Dimitrije (St. Demetrius ), November 21th Sveti Arhanđel Mihailo (St. Archangel Michael), December 19th Sveti Nikola (St. Nicholas), Januar 20th Sveti Jovan (St. John), Maj 6th Sveti Đorđe (St. George)…
During the winter there is the more free time, so people have chosen these days for holidays. Every time you watch the Game of Thrones and you hear someone say “Winter is coming,” remember that at that time the Serbs were celebrating. Perhaps this is the right time for you to come to Serbia and you are welcome!
It’s custom to call only once to Slava officially. Every next year you are welcome without an invitation.