Tradition runs deep at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Broadview Heights
John and Angie Majerle, parishioners at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox in Broadview Heights, were gracious enough to share their Christmas tradition story and three recipes.
Mir Bozji! Hristos Se Rodi!
Christmas is one of the holiest days of the year for Serbian Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar. It is preceded by 40 days of fasting during Advent to prepare for the birth of Christ. No meat, dairy or eggs are consumed, continuing through Christmas Eve night — (badnje vece) — on Jan. 6 (Dec. 24 on the Julian calendar).
Years ago, on Christmas Eve morning (badnji dan) in Serbia, fathers would take their eldest son to the forest to chop down an oak tree branch, which would become their badnjak, or Yule Log.
Today, Serbians obtain a blessed badnjak after Christmas Eve church service. Decorated Christmas trees are not traditional in Serbia although, due to Western influences, they are becoming more common. Straw is placed throughout the home to signify Christ’s humble birth.
Walnuts and wheat are strewn in the four corners of the dining room with a prayer for health and prosperity. Serbian Christmas Eve supper, the meatless meal, depending on the family and the region, may consist of bakalar (cod fish), tuna salad, prebranac (a layered bean and onion dish), meatless sarma, nuts in the shell, fresh and dried fruits, and cookies made without dairy and eggs.
Christmas day: The greeting on Christmas day, Jan. 7 (Dec. 25 on the Julian calendar), is Mir Bozji! Hristos se Rodi! (Peace of God! Christ is Born!). The response is Voistinu Hristos se Rodi! (Indeed, He is born!).
Prayers and hymn singing precede the breaking of a bread known as cesnica, which takes center stage on the Christmas table. This bread varies by region and may be a simple peasant bread, a sweet bread or even something akin to baklava.
What seems to remain constant is that baked inside the bread is a silver coin, which will bring luck to the one who finds it. The bread is torn, not cut, into as many pieces as there are guests, with one extra for the polozajnik (poh-loh-ZHAY-nik) or First Guest.
Also on the table is a container of wheat grass that was planted on St. Nicholas Day, symbolizing a good harvest, usually festooned with a ribbon, and a lighted candle.
After toasting with slivovitz (plum brandy) or warm vruca rakija (a potent blend of whiskey and slivovitz with honey and spices), wheat grains are sprinkled over the guests for luck and prosperity. Only then does the feasting begin.
The meal is lavish with spit-roasted pig (pecenica), meat sarma, roast potatoes, and desserts galore, fresh and dried fruits and, of course, slivovitz.
Polozajnik: After dinner, Christmas day is spent receiving and visiting friends and family. The first visitor to one’s home on Christmas day is known as the polozajnik or polaznik. A special gift is prepared for this First Guest — in the old days in Serbia, it was a scarf or wool stockings — and he or she is given the reserved piece of cesnica.
The polozajnik, usually a young male, is said to come in the name of God with best wishes. In the old days, the polozajnik would take a branch from the badnjak and stir up the fire in the hearth. The more sparks — representing God’s blessings for the family — he or she created, the better.
Serbian Christmas Bread
1 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups or more all-purpose
1 teaspoon salt
1 heaping soup spoon vegetable
In a large bowl, mix yeast with warm water and shortening until yeast is dissolved. Add salt and flour and mix until the dough comes away from your hands and cleans the bowl, adding more flour as necessary.
Transfer dough to a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down and let rise again until doubled.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until shiny. Add a silver coin that has been sterilized in boiling water for 3 minutes (don’t use a copper coin because it will turn the dough green) and knead again, making sure the coin doesn’t pop out.
Shape into a round and place on a greased cookie sheet. Make an indentation with the top of a glass in center. Then make four slight slits radiating from the center with symbols for wheat, rice, oats and rye to ensure a good harvest that year. Let rise until almost doubled.
Bake about 40 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers 190 degrees. Cool on a wire rack.
Pig Roast On A Spit
Whole suckling pig
(35 pounds average)
10-20 garlic cloves
3 to 4 cups shortening
Needle and string
Clean pig and dry. Cut slits in skin and insert garlic cloves. Coat with shortening. Coat with garlic powder and salt. Insert spit and cook 3 to 5 feet above a bed of coals six to seven hours, turning frequently. Add seasoning often.
Meat is done when skin shows deep splits and internal temperature is 160 to 170 degrees.
For a prepared spit-roasted suckling pig and lamb call Jugo’s Meats at (440) 554-3363.
Simple Cabbage Rolls
2 small cabbages, cored
1 large onion, chopped fine
4 tablespoons butter
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
½ pound ground ham
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup beef stock (mixed somewhat
strong if powder)
Paprika for garnish (and a little
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Remove core from cabbage and place the whole head in a large pot filled with boiling, salted water. I use a fork and tongs.
Cover and cook 3 minutes, or until softened enough to pull off individual leaves. You will need about 24-26 leaves. You can chop remaining cabbage and cook alongside the rolls if desired.
Saut the chopped onion in 2 tablespoons of butter in a large frying pan until tender, add beef, pork and ham and continue saut ing until cooked through. Set aside and let it cool.
Mix cooled meat mixture with cooked rice, garlic, salt and black pepper until well combined.
Place approximately 1/2 cup of meat on each cabbage leaf. Roll away from you to encase the meat. Flip the right side of the leaf to the middle, then flip the left side. You will have something that looks like an envelope.
Once again, roll away from you to create a neat little roll. If you pare away some of the thickness at the base of the leaf, they will be compact and pretty)
Butter a casserole dish and place the cabbage rolls next to the chopped cabbage in the casserole dish or Dutch oven. Pour beef stock over rolls, cover and place in oven. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake for one hour or until cabbage is tender and meat is cooked.
Cabbage rolls freeze well before or after cooking, and can be made in a slow cooker — see your manufacturer’s instructions.
There you have it. Just one way to celebrate the holidays.
For more information about St. Sava Church, visit saintsavachurch.org.