Cheat Sheet For Going To Serbian Slava

Dinning table with huge variety of Serbian traditional food

Brace yourselves, Serbian slava season is coming.

“A complaint I have about Serbian slava… The minute you come here, you sit down, there’s a lot of food. You eat, you eat, you EAT. You don’t know there’s more coming. It’s kind of a confusing deal. But everything you have here is beautiful.” 

Did you know that UNESCO inscribed Serbian slava in the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage? Slava tradition can’t be found in any other country. It enchants Americans and other foreigners who are staying in Serbia. Here’s the proof

Your Serbian friend has invited you to his slava, and you have no idea what’s going on. Don’t worry, we’ll prepare you for the venture of your lifetime called going to a Serbian slava. Nobody will guess you’re not a local with our help.

What Is A Slava and Why Do Serbians Celebrate It?

Serbian Orthodox Slava is honoring a family’s patron saint, and it’s an annual celebration. Slava tradition dates back to 11th-century Medieval Serbia. We prepare a large feast for our families, kumovi*, and friends. 

Slava is a memorial to the family’s first ancestor who converted to Christianity. In Serbian, we call it Krsna Slava. The family’s patron saint is passed down from generation to generation, together with slava rituals and customs.

*Godfathers, or best men, depending on the context. We consider them respected members of our families, the same as blood relatives.

When And Where Do Serbs Celebrate Slava?

If you happen to be in Serbia somewhere between November and January, the chances are at least 2-3 Serbian people will invite you to their slava. It’s the time of the year when most slavas take place. Check out the list of Serbian slava dates and plan your Slava visits.

Your Serbian host (domaćin) expects you to come to their home for lunch or dinner, maybe even both, depending on your stomach capacity. Beware – once someone invites you to their slava, the invitation stands forever.  

What To Bring If You’re Going To Serbian Slava

Now that you know everything you need in theory, let’s move on to the practical part.

Once you’ve chosen your decent, formal (but not over the top) slava outfit, it’s time to choose a present for your hosts. Presents for a slava are usually symbolic. It is typically a bottle of red wine, coffee, a box of chocolates, and/or a flower bouquet. 

You’ve Arrived To A Slava. What now?

Here’s the order of what you are supposed to do at a slava and how you should behave like a pro slava guest.

Greet Your Hosts Properly

Srećna slava, domaćine!

This is how to wish your host a happy slava. Then you shake hands with them and kiss them three times on the cheek, following the Serbian tradition. Now repeat the greeting ritual with all the family members.

Žito (Wheat), Vino (Wine), and Sveća (Candle)

Boiled wheat, wine, Serbian slava bread, and the candle are the typical slava symbols
The slava symbols

Your hostess will offer you žito (boiled wheat) and a sip of crno vino (red wine) when you enter their home. Slavsko žito represents the death and resurrection of Christ, while vino represents Christ’s blood.

The next thing you’ll notice is an icon of the family’s patron saint on the wall and the slava candle on the table. The candle burns all day, and we light it before we cut slavski kolač (Serbian slava bread). If you’re intrigued, here’s how to make Serbian slava bread.

Serbian Slava Feast - Dig Into The Food Delicacies

If you want to survive the whole slava meal with endless dishes, you shouldn’t eat anything but light food beforehand. Your host will show you where to sit at the table. Bear in mind that there’s a sitting plan for the guests. The most respected guest sits at the head of the table, and the others follow.

The most interesting ritual you’ll witness is cutting the slavski kolač while pouring a bit of red wine on it and saying prayers. Kolač represents the body of Jesus.

We can divide slavas into two categories based on the food that’s served:

  • Posna Slava – during the fasting periods; no meat, dairy, or eggs 
  • Mrsna Slava – meat-based dishes are predominant

 

We guarantee you won’t regret going to either posna or mrsna slava. Sveti Nikola (St Nicholas) is the most widespread family’s patron saint among Serbian people. There’s a saying that half of the Serbs celebrate it, while the other half are their guests.

Cabbage rolls filled with rice and minced meat in a serving dish
Sarma - the most beloved Serbian dish

You might need some help with talking in Serbian at the table, so we’ve got that covered for you. At one point during the meal (probably after the first two courses), you’ll feel full and think the end of the feast is near. The truth is it’s just started. Let’s check out the typical courses and dishes you can indulge in at a slava.

  • Predjelo (Appetizers) 

Various salads (don’t let the name fool you, they aren’t that healthy, it’s usually some veggies combined with a bunch of meat, dairies, and mayo, but the taste is heavenly), dried meat, čvarci, ajvar, sir, kajmak (a Serbian version of a charcuterie board for mrsna slava); traditional radishes and ground walnut salad, veggie pies and turšija (torshi; pickled vegetables) for posna slava

  • Supa/Čorba (Soup)

There are numerous soup options – meat, veggie, or fish. They will warm and soothe your soul and get you in the mood for the rest of the meal

  • Sarma (Cabbage rolls)

An unavoidable part of Serbian feasts. We love them so much that we have versions for both types of slavas – posna sarma filled with rice and carrots, and mrsna sarma filled with meat and rice

  • Pasulj prebranac (Baked beans)

Don’t tell us you’re full already! This exquisite Serbian dish is a must-try at a posna slava.

  • Pečenje/riba (Roast meat/fish)

Roast pork and/or lamb are the most popular options for mrsna slava, while various roast fish are found at posna slava

  • Torte i sitni kolači (Cakes and slava cookies)

It’s time for your separate dessert stomach to enjoy high-calorie cakes made from eggs, chocolate, and walnuts (reforma, doboš, Vasina torta). You’ll be amazed at the sight of delicious cookies at a posna slava. Try as many as you can. Don’t go home before trying mouth-watering vanilice, the best cookies in the world.

People toasting drinks at Serbian slava
"Ko je rekao ŽIVELI?" - Toasts are inevitable part of Serbian feasts

As usual, we recommend you drink rakija (fruit brandy, usually plum) to ease digestion after everything your stomach has endured so far. And expect to toast. A lot. But don’t drink too much, or you’ll end up in a heated argument about politics with an uncle seated next to you. Serbian people always say they won’t mention politics over lunch, but as soon as rakija kicks in, they forget their promises. It’s funny to listen to, and the overall atmosphere is warm and welcoming. The hosts give their best to shower you with their hospitality.

Is It Over Yet? Can You Go Home?

Here’s a vivid depiction from Serbian literature and film of what happens when guests don’t want to leave home after three days of celebrating slava. You will feel honored, respected, and at home while being at a Serbian slava. But you’d better not stay as long as the guys in the video. If you want to learn more about how to prepare for Serbian slava, you will find a lesson dedicated to it in our Pre-Intermediate course.

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