Slavic Christmas day 2022

My alarm clock woke me up before sunrise at 5:30 am, and I snoozed in my bed for half an hour before getting up. I dressed in my military pants, shirt, and a sports blouse, something I use as work clothes. After a quick freshening up in the bathroom, my next task was to make coffee and sip it ritually until the sun came up. The cannonade had already started outside. Boys threw firecrackers, those we named Canon Blasts because they are compact gun powder crackers able to destroy stuff if you lite them next to objects. By the time the third went off, the whole neighborhood was up and moving. I saw men, their sons, and grandsons walking down the street next to my house, axes in hand, booze bottles in the other, all heading in the same direction.

I finished my coffee, washed the cup, and fetched my boots. I took the jacket, woolen cap, pocketed a bottle of booze and went out the door. The morning was warm, warmer than the last year, but the wind was slowly catching on. With a selected tempo of steps, I joined the group, now aiming toward the sound of cannonade in the distance. Just over the hill, there’s a little oak forest on my name, a place where each year, the groups of men gather to celebrate Badnji Dan, an Orthodox Christmas morning, or as we call it, a Slavic Christmas. The tradition dictates that we should cut a small oak tree, usually a branch, and bring it home, much like Catholics do on Christmas. While Catholics end their year with one of the biggest holidays in Christianity, Orthodox folk begin their year with the same holiday.

There, among the trees, oaken tops colored golden and brown, we gather in a meadow in the middle, start a fire, and place a cauldron on it. First goes the sugar; we caramelize it and add a moonshine; the stronger, the better. Alcohol doesn’t throw bubbles when boiled, but it develops more alcohol content. Then, when the time is ripe, we add the water and let it cook through. Just after that, the beverage is ready for consumption, and this is how Mountain Tsai is made. Men, young and old, drink it, all of them; it is a tradition. Christmas trees are resting nearby while everyone enjoys a lively conversation, exchanges wishes among each other, and loudly shouts the phrase “The Christ is born,” followed by a choir of men replying with “Indeed, he is born.”

This gathering can last from one up to three hours in one place, after which everyone collectively picks their tree up and forms a column. One behind the other, these men track a trail toward home, back to the village, and frequently stop to take a swig from the bottle. The booze is drunk and shared among the men, but almost none get wasted and rendered unable to walk. The village is near, where people part ways, each going to his own home. An oaken tree is then settled in front of the house, and one branch is taken from the tree. This branch, more of a twig than something thicker, is used as a blessing tool where the holder of it, the one who brought the tree, makes circles in the fire with it, calling upon God to provide a fertile and bountiful year. Finally, the twig is risen above the head to bless those who live under one roof. This is the tradition of bringing in the Christmas tree.

Slavic people fast on that day, so they only eat food that the earth gave, no animal products like milk, eggs, cheese, or meat except for fish. The next day the Catholics call Boxing day, Slavs perform their customs like today, but the meals are specially made when the lottery is being drawn by the dinner table. A family lunch is presented will all the meats, roasted pork, celebratory bread cake, and a particular type of cornbread, porous, yet with enough gluten to keep it all together. There’s a bean seed in this lottery bread, a horse bean seed, a wooden chip from the house doorstep, a wild plant seed, and a golden coin. Whoever bites the bread and gets the bean is the one taking care of the sheepcote. Who bites the horse bean seed, he will be to one to take care of cows and horses. Chip from the doorstep represents the one who will take care of the house, and wild plant seed represents a gift of excellent health. A golden coin represents riches and good luck, so that’s why people become excited the most.

I came home around nine in the morning, performed all of my duties, and respected the tradition. Later today, I’ll be having my sisters visit, and the whole family will be under one roof once again. It is an excellent way to begin a year. We did this the last year, and we did this again this year, and in the next year, the same traditions will happen the same as before. To all Slavs of the Orthodox religion, I wish you a Merry Christmas. Stay tuned for a Slavic New Year’s Eve. And here are some photos I took this morning.

2 thoughts on “Slavic Christmas day 2022

  1. Merry moonshine Christmas! It makes me wonder what Slavic Christmas carols sound like🥴😵‍💫

    Liked by 1 person

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