A Serbian Christmas

The rumors are true—Serbian hospitality is fantastic.  And if you haven’t heard any such rumors, let me begin spreading them.   I could title my Christmas week  spent immersed in another family’s traditions something like: ‘A Serbian Christmas—an illuminating and rich cultural experience.’ But that would be a bit stiff and formal, so I prefer:  ‘A Serbian Christmas—one can never consume too much cake.’

While enjoying a savory fish paprika soup on Christmas Eve, I experienced one of those wonderful flashes of bliss that occasionally come when I am simultaneously  living fully in the present moment and experiencing something new and different.   As the family chattered around me in Serbian, I relished the spicy flavor of the soup and looked thoughtfully at the plate of garlic, apple slices, walnuts, and the bowl of honey.  To symbolize good health of the body, heart, and brain for the coming year, I dipped a piece of each food item in the honey and took a bite, leaving the remnant on the plate.  Thinking the fish paprika was the main part of meal, I made the mistake of enjoying two servings, urged on by the mother.  In the midst of the stomach-bulging third course, I acknowledged my learning curve of Serbian holiday meals and vowed to live by the old adage:  It ain’t over until they bring out the kolače (cakes).  And believe me, hard economic times might prevent serving meat or cause scrimping on other parts of the meal, but there will always be kolače in the Balkans!

My friends’ house is quite small, and to me it felt like we were continually around one another.  As I slipped  into the groove of constant social interaction(while stealing away for some solo runs and walks), it became easy to appreciate the experience of a closer family community.  Because hospitality is such an important value, if someone invites you  into their home, they really take care of you.  My friends have little money, and I found my treatment as a guest a remarkable demonstration of  unconditional generosity. Meanwhile, it is considered  good taste to bring a gift. My gift, a little Christmas pitcher with matching cups, caused many exclamations of “yoi,” and hands being thrown up into the air.  I was both relieved and gratified that my gift brought such pleasure.

At midnight, we attended Christmas mass at the big Catholic church in the center of town, an experience that was new for me.  As I tried to think warm thoughts in the large, unheated cathedral, I found that I rather liked the experience of ushering in Christmas Day in christian community.   Afterwards, we walked through frozen streets toward home and our after-church-snack that was waiting for us, and—you guessed it—two kinds of  kolače.

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7 responses to “A Serbian Christmas

  1. A wonderful heart warming story. I wish I could have enjoyed it with you.

  2. You’ve managed to make me wish I’d spent Christmas all the way across the planet AND alleviate my fears that you’d endured a lonely holiday. Who could be sad in the presence of so much cake?

    And, I like to think about the joy you bring to your new friends and family, even though their gain is our tremendous loss.

    I miss you, love you, and continue to pray for you.

    Jamie

  3. Yum! There’s always room for cake! I’m so glad that you had a nice Christmas with a family. Thanks for sharing about it. Miss you!

  4. I’m so glad Serbia treated you well! I’m sorry I missed you, but let me know if you’re ever in Novi Sad again! Blessings! 🙂

  5. Your first Christmas in the Balkans – a great account of it and so glad you enjoyed the time with your friends. No doubt it will always be a memorable experience. Praying for more good times & friendships, a belated happy & blessed new year!
    Julie

  6. Sounds divine, Mel. I love the mental picture of you eating Christmas Eve dinner with that family. Beautiful… but you left out the part of how you dealt with the spicy soup!! Glad you are savoring these special memories. Love you!
    robin

  7. A Christmas to remember and full belly of love!

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