Most Serbians are Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar. Thus, Christmas Eve is celebrated on Jan. 6 and Christmas on Jan. 7. In the old days, on Christmas Eve morning, Serbian fathers would take their eldest son to chop down (or in more recent times, buy) a young oak tree called a badnjak.
There is a festive badnjak burning at night and then a meatless meal which varies from family to family. Typically, wheat grass, that was planted on St. Nicholas Day, symbolizing a good harvest,... and cesnica, which isn't eaten until Christmas morning, are on the table. Read more about how Serbians celebrate Christmas.
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The cesnica or bozicni kolac, also known as "money bread," is placed on the Christmas Eve table, but is not consumed until Christmas Day morning when it is broken, not cut, into serving pieces, with one extra for the polozajnik. Whoever gets the coin baked inside will be lucky for the rest of the year.
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Sometimes the dried fruit compote or suvo voce is eaten before the meal begins, sometimes afterward as dessert. It's made with any combination of dried fruit, usually prunes, that have been cooked in water and sugar until they are tender. The liquid is as prized as the fruit. In Polish, this is known as kompot and the same recipe works for a Serbian Christmas Eve.
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There is usually a soup course at the Christmas Eve meal. It might be corba od patlidzan (tomato soup), fish soup, or meatless pasulj (bean soup). Whichever soup is served, it is usually sopped up with Lenten or fasting pogacha bread (see below).
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Since Serbians fast during Advent, meaning no eggs, dairy or butter, the bread served at the Christmas Eve dinner must be free of these ingredients. This Lenten or fasting pogacha fills the bill. It is used to sop up the soup course and to enjoy with ajvar, an eggplant-pepper spread. When not fasting, this pogacha recipe is made.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Beans, not only being a lucky food, are a perfect fasting food. Pasulj, a kind of kidney bean salad, is popular, as is prebranac, a baked bean dish.
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Grains, vegetables and spices combined in filling dishes like djuvece help round out an already-groaning table of fasting foods on Christmas Eve.
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Serbian Fish and Seafood Recipes
Some type of fish dish is mandatory. In some families, several types of seafood are served, including whole baked fish, fish chowder, lignje na salatu (squid salad) and bakalar (salt cod).
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For cabbage lovers, these vegetable sarma allow one to indulge in a favorite food while still following the church's fasting rules. They're also a great meat alternative for vegetarians.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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For dessert, along with dried fruit compote, fruit, and nuts, some families serve Lenten or fasting cookies so named because they are made with no eggs, milk or butter, which are prohibited during Advent (and Lent). These recipes are from our Greek food site. Serbians and other Balkans share many of the same traditions and recipes as Greeks.
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It wouldn't be Christmas Eve without vruca rakija, a potent hot drink made with whiskey, water, and sugar. Families guard their secret recipes for this traditional way of welcoming in Christmas and the Nativity of Christ. Some recipes call for spices to be added to the brew.