I learned about the tradition of the slava just recently from the illustrator of my next children’s book, Julijana. She lives in Serbia where the practice of the slava originates. It is essentially a feast day, but is unique to each family, in celebration of their patron saint. The tradition is patrilineal, moved through families from father to son and daughters take on the patron saint of their husband’s family. There’s some difficulty in this, such as if families have only daughters, and so some slavas are in danger of dying out. To correct this some families are bucking tradition and allowing their daughters to inherit the slava to keep it going. Same-sex marriage is not currently legal in Serbia, but I would imagine when that gets enacted they’ll have to figure out the transfer of slavas for two-male households and allow the new tradition of female inheritance for two-female households. Slavas can also be celebrated by towns, cities and community organizations. The concept of the slava was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List, which features events, dances, music, food, etc. that are deemed essential to cultural identity and need preservation.

I asked Julijana to share her family traditions surrounding the slava so you get to be treated to an insiders look to this lovely piece of culture.

Slava represents a spiritual ceremony which is held once a year in honor of the family’s patron saint. It is a way to, with close friends and relatives, thank the Saint, and therefore the Lord, for keeping the family safe, and for all their achievements and happiness.

My grandparents’ slava is Saint Cyriacus the Anchorite, and is always on the 12th of October, and my dad’s slava is Saint Nicholas which is on December 19th (since my parents are divorced, I am more often present for all preparations of my grandparents’ slava, so that’s the one I’ll be talking about). 🙂

Preparations for slava begin days before, when a priest visits our home and consecrates water, which will later be used to make the slava cake.

In the morning of Slava, all family members gather around for a prayer, at which the head of the family lights a big candle which will burn through the day. After that all members have a morsel of specially prepared sweet boiled wheat with walnut, with a sip of red wine to go with it, which will also later be served to the guests, as they arrive.

The guests don’t have to be invited – all the friends of the family know when Slava of our family is (and vice-versa), and in our part of Serbia, it is considered that all guests that wish to come are welcome!

When guests arrive, they greet us with ‘Srecna Slava!’, and after the family welcomes them, the youngest member of the family (in our case me), offers each guest a tray with some specially prepared sweet boiled wheat with walnut, with a sip of red wine to go with it.

Guests are then served with a big feast. One of the most important foods served are traditional Serbian sarma, roasted pig, various  confectioneries, cakes, wine and rakija, a strong traditional Serbian drink.

Although not many people do it, our religion, apart for the big fasts during Christmas and Easter, recommends fasting each Wednesday and Friday. So, when our Slava happens to be on one of those days, it is very important that all food is prepared having that in mind. Fasting in Orthodox religion is very similar to the vegan diet because any meat and products derived from animals shouldn’t be consumed, apart from fish. Alcoholic drinks are also frowned upon, unless in very small quantity (usually wine).  There is also an option to abstain from any food that contains oil as well, which is a more serious fasting option, but is never carried out as a part of Slava’s feast and is more of a personal fasting option.

The most important thing about Slava is a gathering of the whole family and friends in a day meant only for lots of laughter and happiness, which sometimes lasts until the late night.  Any guests that don’t manage to visit on the day of the Slava are always welcomed the day after it, which is called ‘Patarice’.

I hope you guys enjoyed a look into this interesting piece of Serbian culture and history. Julijana and I have been working together since the summer on a book project and in less than a month it will be available for purchase 😀 She does beautiful work and I’m so excited to share our book with all of you.

Thanks for stopping by!

-Erin