Tuesday, December 4, 2012


It seems like there are a million holidays in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but there are several holidays which are celebrated on slightly different days, depending on whether you are Catholic or Orthodox. There are also some public holidays that may be only celebrated in one region or another (like in Australia). Because of the many religions celebrated here, there are more than the usual number of holidays.

New Year’s Day.  January 1-2. This is a time to bid the old year goodbye by gathering at friend’s or family’s homes and sharing traditional foods together. Bars and restaurants are often filled with partiers, and at the stroke of midnight, people will spill into the streets, often with drinks in hand, to shout and yell, bringing in the new year. Fireworks light up the sky in its own reverie. Children look forward with anticipation to receiving gifts from the adults at this time as well.

Christmas [Orthodox]. January 7. In Orthodox tradition, they celebrate Christmas on this day, based on an older calendar. Many will also take part of a 40-day fast prior to the day and start their celebrations with an elaborate feast after attending a special church service in honor of the day. An old tradition is the cutting of oak branches used to start large bonfires in front of churches and homes, thought to bring warmth, love, and harmony to the community. Some carry on the tradition of baking a gold coin into a loaf of bread, and whoever receives the gold coin gets special well-wishes for the coming year.

Republic Day [Republika Srpska]. January 9.  Bosnia-Herzegovina is divided into two main “states” if you will: Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Repubilka Srpska more or less follows the border across the northern and eastern sections and is divided in two by the small District Brčko.  The main city in the region is Banja Luka. Basically this region (comprised mostly of the Serbian population of Bosnia-Herzegovina) decided to celebrate Independence Day on this day.

Old New Year.  January 14. Many of the former Soviet countries, as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina celebrate what’s known as the Old New Year or Orthodox New Year. (Another source called it Serbian New Year.) It’s based on the Julian calendar, the calendar used before agreeing to switch over to the currently-used Gregorian calendar in 1918. On this day, many local rock bands perform concerts prior to a firework display at midnight.

Mevlud (Prophet’s Birthday) [Muslim]. Varies. This holiday celebrates the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Bosnian Muslims will go to their mosques for special prayers, and some may also sprinkle the people with rosewater while incense fills the atmosphere. Originally, Bosnians sung in Turkish, but since then the lyrics have been translated into Bosnian.

Independence Day [Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina].  March 1. This day marks the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This is only celebrated in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (as mentioned earlier, the Republika Srpska celebrates it January 9).  Many of the larger cities will have special street parades and state-sponsored cultural shows. Since most people that this day off, they are able to spend it with friends and family.  

Easter [Catholic and Orthodox].  Varies. While Catholics and Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter on different days, they celebrate it in very similar ways.  Traditionally, people would fast for the 40 days prior to Easter, but in recent years most people just fast starting on Good Friday.  Traditional Easter foods include a variety of cold meats and cheese, breads, and of course colored eggs. A lot of the time, eggs are colored red, although you’ll certainly find other colors.  Egg hunts are something of a new thing only in the past 2-3 decades.

May Day.  May 1-2. Most people have the day off of work and school, and commonly spend the day with friends and family.  It’s a popular day for recreation and games, and traditionally roast lamb at picnics.

St. George’s Day [Orthodox]. May 6. Celebrates the Feast of St. George, one of the most important figures in Orthodox Christian religion. St. George is a martyr and is usually depicted as a horse-back riding cavalier valiantly slaying a dragon.

Victory Day [Republika Srpska].  May 9. Also known as Victory Day over Fascism, and most businesses and schools are closed for the day.

St. Vitus’ Day [Orthodox]. June 28. Also called Vidovdan, it’s a holiday that encompasses a lot of sentiments. It’s more of a holiday for the Serbs of this region, and in remembrance of times in history when the Serb-majority areas were overtaken by others that happened to correspond to being on this day. St. Vitus is an important saint to Serbian culture, who was also a martyr and was the one who exorcised the evil out of Diocletian’s son around the same time Christianity was being brought to the Serbs.

St. Peter's Day [Orthodox]. July 12. This day, named after St. Peter, is a pyromaniac's holiday. I say that in jest of course, but one of the traditions is burning things. Many use wood and burn torches now, but in the past, people have burned tires to create an acrid black smoke, signifying the past when people have been burned at the stake.

St. Elijah's Day [Orthodox]. August 2. Also called Ilindan or St. Elias' Day, in honor of an Arab educated in Egypt. Celebrations can be raucous, since it's believed he ascended to the heavens in a fiery chariot. Traditionally, there are a lot of fireworks displays around the area on this day.

Eid al-Fitr [Muslim]. Varies. This day includes special prayers at the mosque and is spent with friends and families with elaborate meals. Eid al-Fitr is the holiday feast that celebrates the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting and reflection.

Assumption of Mary [Catholic – August 15. Orthodox – August 28]. This holiday is centered around the idea that Mary the mother of Jesus ascended into heaven after her death. It is generally celebrated with a great feast and other festivities.

Nativity of the Virgin Mary [Catholic – September 8. Orthodox – September 21]. This is a day in honor of the Virgin Mary, a figure considered highly important in the Christian religion. It’s been written in the Book of James (that was left out of the Bible that we know today) that Mary’s birth was too miraculous since her parents were past age to bear children. There are many symbols used around this time, namely the fleur de lis, pierced heart, crescent moon, among others.

Eid al-Adha [Muslim]. Varies. Also called “Feast of the Sacrifice,” this holiday commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son. Traditionally, people would sacrifice an animal and give part of the meat to the poor, as well as other charitable acts.  People do dress in their best clothes for special prayer services at their mosque and come home to wonderful feasts with family and friends.

All Saints Day [Catholic].  November 1. This is a Catholic holiday that celebrates all the saints, especially as a catch-all to those saints that do not already have days for them.

All Souls Day [Catholic].  November 2. This day is in remembrance of those who have passed on already. People will take time to care for and maintain upkeep on loved ones’ gravesites.

St. Demetrius’ Day [Orthodox].  November 8. Also called Mitrovdan. St. Demetrius, a martyr from Thessalonica, was baptized in secret since his parents had to keep their Christianity a secret. He’s often thought of as the protector of the young and those who are struggling with extremely alluring temptations.

Dayton Agreement Day [Republika Srpska].  November 21. The Dayton Peace Agreement was held at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio in 1995, and set the steps in motion for the end of the Bosnian War for Independence from Yugoslavia that lasted for four years. It’s only celebrated in the Republika Srpska, where businesses and schools are closed for the day. 

Statehood Day [Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina].  November 25. This day emphasizes Bosnia and Herzegovina’s diversity in race and religion and their vow to work together and bring equal rights to all of its citizens.

Christmas [Catholic].  December 25.  Many family decorate Christmas trees with a variety of toys, lights, ornaments (including chocolate – hopefully it’s not too close to the lights), and topped with a star. The three Sundays prior to Christmas day is designated as special days for children, mothers, and fathers. Christmas Eve is a time for elaborate meals with family that include turkey, stuffed cabbage, spinach pies (which I’ll be making!) and different kinds of desserts. Instead of Santa Claus, they celebrate by having Grandfather Frost bring the children their toys and treats.

Up next: Art and Literature

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