Christmas Traditions in Montenegro
Catholic and Orthodox Festivities
Orthodox Monastery Praskvica in Budva
For the first three centuries of Christianity’s existence, Jesus Christ’s birth wasn’t celebrated at all. His birth date has been still unknown because there is little information about his early life. In that time, the religion’s most significant holidays were Epiphany, which commemorated the arrival of the Magi after Jesus’ birth, and Easter, which celebrated Jesus’ resurrection. The first official mention of honouring Jesus’ birth was in the era of Emperor Constantin, in 336 A.D.
In Montenegro, we celebrate two Christmases, one in December, and one in January. Although, the dominant part of the Montenegrin population is Orthodox Christians, there are also Catholic Christians (around 3,5 %). But, in both cases, Christmas is an official holiday, and all schools, businesses and public administrations do not work during Christmas days. For us, Christmas is all about spending time with family and friends, while feasting and celebrating. There are many customs and traditions that are being passed from generation to generation so Christmas can be celebrated in many ways.
Catholic Temple dedicated to Our Lady in Prcanj, city of Kotor
ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
For Orthodox Christians, Christmas celebration starts on the 6th of January, or on Badnji dan (Christmas Eve) and during this day families prepare for Christmas. Usually, early in the morning before the sun rises, the male members of the family go to the woods and cut a type of Yule Log or 'Badnjak' (Christmas Eve tree), normally from an oak tree. Badnjak signifies the tree that the shepherds brought and that Joseph ignited to warm up the cave where Jesus was born. It also symbolises the tree from which the cross on which Christ was crucified, was made. Badnjak is brought into the house on Christmas Eve evening, by a male member of the house, accompanied by numerous rituals like sprinkling their heads with rice or wheat. It is meant to burn through the evening and night, symbolising the light and the heat that bonds the family members.
After this ritual, members of the family pray, sit down for a festive dinner and enjoy the delicious food prepared for the celebration of the Christmas Eve. Under the dinner table, the floor is covered in straw, to represent the cave in Bethlehem in which Jesus was born. People fast on Christmas Eve, because it’s the last day of the 40-day fast, so dinner will be meat free and dairy free. Beans, fish, and potatoes are usually served, and of course, the inevitable Montenegrin priganice, which are made of bread dough and are served with honey or jam.
Christmas Table by Scala Santa
Besides family gatherings, every year large bonfires are being organized by the Montenegrin Orthodox Church and Serbian Orthodox church, in front of their main temples. People are gathering in the early evening on Christmas Eve, to celebrate and light up the Badnjak trees. Don’t be surprised if you hear gunshots, because here it’s a normal way of celebrating (anything in general) the burning of the Badnjak. Later, the Holy Liturgy/Mass is organised at midnight and also in the mornings, when the liturgy is served.
Orthodox Church in Rezevici
Christ is Born!, -Truly is Born!
Christmas starts early in the morning with people greeting each other by saying “Hristos se rodi!” (Christ is Born), followed by the reply, “Vaistinu se rodi!” (Truly is born). According to the tradition, the first person who comes in the house on the Christmas morning must be a male (we say polaznik). It is believed that "polaznik", by stroking the fire made by the Badnjak tree, will bring luck, wealth and blessings into the home. Polaznik symbolically represents the Three Wise Kings or Magi, who followed the star from the East and came to the new-born Christ, with gifts. Polaznik is also symbolically greeted with gifts, after which he enjoys the rich Christmas feast of homemade dishes that include roasted pork, lamb, “Njeguški pršut”, cheese, different kinds of sweets, wine and brandy (or rakija). 'Česnica' is a special type of bread made only for the occasion of Christmas, and during breakfast, it is divided into as many parts as there are family members. A silver or gold coin is placed inside the bread, which symbolizes the gift to the new-born Christ, and it is believed that the person who finds the coin into his piece of bread, will be happy during the upcoming year.
Traditional Meal at the Christmas Eve
"Christmas is a family holiday and is celebrated within the family circle. It is believed that on that day, all those who have been in quarrels and disputes, should forgive and reconcile."
CATHOLIC CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
For Roman Catholic Christians, Christmas is also preceded by the 40-day xerophagy. The journey of the Magi, from the East, lasted for 40 days, and so much lasts the Christmas fast, which ends with the beginning of the Christmas celebration on the 25th of December, which do not differ very much from the Orthodox Christmas Celebrations, here in Montenegro. As the most joyful holiday, Catholics celebrate Christmas with friends and family, organising family dinners where they enjoy the savoury food and exchange gifts. On Christmas Eve they come to bow at the improvised Christmas tree cribs in the temples; this custom is a remembrance of the gift of the Magi to baby Jesus, who according to tradition, arrived in Bethlehem following the brightest star that stopped precisely above the cave of his birth. Symbols of the Christmas celebration of the Roman Catholic are the cribs in which Christ was born, an everlasting green Christmas tree and an advent wreath. The Catholic Church serves the Holly Mass at midnight between 24th and 25th of December.
North of Montenegro offers Fairytale Attire for Christmas
Christmas is about spending time with family and friends. It’s about creating happy memories that will last a lifetime.