Happy Old New Year

Posted on Friday, January 14, 2011, under ,

As it is called in the Orthodox Christian circles, namely Russian (‘Старый Новый год’). In Serbia they call it a Serbian New Year (‘Srpska Nova Godina’), and yes, you guessed it, it’s the new year celebration according to the old Julian Calendar, and which corresponds to January 13/14th of the modern Gregorian Calendar (in 20th and 21st centuries, that is). As Wikipedia reads
A large part of the population celebrates Serbian New Year in a similar way as the New Year on January 1. This time, usually one concert is organized in front of either City Hall or the National Parliament in Belgrade, while fireworks are prepared by the Serbian Orthodox Church and fired from the Church Cathedral of Saint Sava, where people also gather. Restaurants, clubs, cafe's and hotels are usually full-booked and organize New Year's celebrations with food and live music.
A traditional folk name for this holiday as part of Twelve Days of Christmas is Little Christmas (Мали Божић/Mali Božić). Some families continue with the procedures of Serbian Christmas traditions.
Being born and having spent my formative years in Belgrade in the 70’s and 80’s in the politically and economically highly experimental, and ultimately disastrous, style of Self-Governing Socialism, I look upon these festivities with a hint of nostalgia, but mainly as a outside onlooker, someone who has been out of the country way too long to be able to identify with its reawakened and ever-burgeoning religious rites, embraced thus by the population after 50-odd years of Church repression by Tito’s regime. It must be said, however, that repression was rather mild and half-hearted, and the Christmas and other religious traditions in the various regions of the former Yugoslavia were very much kept alive. I remember that even in those days people would greet each other during the Twelve Days of Christmas (January 7 – January 18), with ‘Hristos se rodi’ (‘Christ is Born’), to which a proper reply would be ‘Vaistinu se rodi’ (‘Truly He is Born’).

I recall wonderful, homely traditions such as the baking of a Christmas loaf česnica (roughly pronounced ‘chess-ni-tza’) inside which a coin would be inserted while it is kneaded. Once baked, the family members would break the loaf and whoever winds up with the coin is considered one lucky sod (the elders would often make sure the coin(s) end up in children’s hands). Here is a česnica I remember – sweet and crunchy – as it is made in Banat, northern Serbia where my folks come from:

This particular tradition has been extended to public events, i.e. česnica consumption on a large scale, which all fits in nicely with our age of austerity and empty purses. One such newly-cherished tradition is the breaking of a 50-kg česnica (the salty version) at Terazije Square in Belgrade. This year it took place last Friday, January 7th, on Christmas Day. The huge loaf was baked and delivered with three golden ducats hiding inside, the first of which found its way into the hands of a local pensioner, to everyone’s delight. Here are some pics from the event: from the all-smiles down to the last crumbs (courtesy of Beta agency)

Speaking of austerity and crumbs, this morning while browsing the B92 online (the famous Serbian media service) I come across this article about the findings of the organization called Gallup International who have been conducting global polls at the end of each year since 2000. This survey, according to their website, ‘is released around the world on the 1st of January, [asking] people whether they think the new year will be better or worse than the last one, both for themselves and for their country; whether they feel economic and employment prospects will be better or worse and whether the coming year will be peaceful or troubled’ [http://www.gallup-international.com/]. This year’s poll questioned 64.000 people in 53 countries. The citizens of Serbia are the greatest world pessimists when it comes to the overall expectations for 2011 (last year they were 3rd –placed on the pessimism scale). They are closely followed by Romanians, French and Icelanders. The biggest optimists are – would you believe it – Nigerians, followed by Brazilians, Vietnamese, Chinese and Ghanians. However, if you look at the BBC news page reporting on the same story [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12056250], you will find that it is actually UK citizens who are the most pessimistic about the economic prospects: 'The survey, conducted by leading pollsters associated with Gallup International, suggests the most downhearted country is the UK.' The article continues:
The UK was particularly downbeat in four key questions.
  • Will 2011 be a year of prosperity? UK - 8% Yes; World average 30%
  • Will unemployment rise? UK 37% Yes; World average 17%
  • Will you find a job quickly if you become unemployed? UK 17% Yes; World average 31%
  • Will 2011 be better than 2010? UK 23% Yes; World average 42%
Gallup says its findings suggest: "While wealth is still concentrated in Europe and North America, there is a shift in power and prosperity from the West of the 20th Century to the East".
To corroborate the above, here is the ‘employment fear’ chart from the Gallup’s Barometer of Hope and Despair 2011 (click to enlarge):

Interestingly, Serbia falls under ‘the countries less than 30% fearful of rising unemployment’ (24% to be exact). But this is more likely to do with the fact that the unemployment rate in Serbia is already at about 20% and it can hardly get worse than that now can it?! Dear me. The two countries I spent most of my life in, both with such rosy prospects. Would be interesting to see at the end of the year how right or wrong the respondents were.

Happy Old New Year

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2 Reply to "Happy Old New Year"

  • Anonymous on 21 January 2011 at 23:17

    Bravo to the author!All Serbs should read it wherever they are,just to remember. I am old enough to remember our old customs,like this one,especially I remember sweet cesnica that my mother used to make it with the coin in it. Thank you the author for this beautiful text and pictures.


    branko on 22 January 2011 at 15:42

    thanks 'anonymous'. ah, cesnica...