Christmas is one of the most popular times of the year in Europe, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is no exception. Despite the country being predominantly Muslim, the Christian tradition is widely celebrated by both Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy.
For Catholics, families celebrate Christmas December 25 in typical European form by decorating Christmas trees with a variety of toys, lights, and ornaments. The three Sundays prior to Christmas day are special days for children, mothers, and fathers. Typically, Christmas Eve is a time for elaborate meals with the family, which traditionally include turkey, stuffed cabbage, spinach pies, and wonderful desserts. There is one departure from the Western tradition though: instead of Santa, the people here celebrate Grandfather Frost. Another bonus for being in Bosnia and Herzegovina during this time of the year is that many Serbian Orthodox Christians live in the country. This means that instead of one Christmas Day, visitors get to enjoy January 7th as well.
The best way to get an idea of what Christmas is like in this Eastern European country is to visit the capital, Sarajevo. Like most other European capitals, Sarajevo is a stage for lively Christmas markets. The Sarajevo Holiday Market (SHM), which goes on until January 14, 2016 at Trg Oslobođenja – Alija Izetbegović and in front of BBI Center is the main to see. Visitors can savor typical traditional fare at all the markets, watch presentations, and purchase hand-crafted souvenirs. There are also daily cultural events at the PAN Winter Pub, with concerts, song-filled evenings, stand-up comedy, promotions and food tastings.
In Medjugorje a Christmas Vigil begins Christmas Eve at 5:00 pm with the Rosary and Holy Christmas Eve Mass until morning at the local parish with all priests attending. Then, on Christmas Day, the usual scheduled mass will take place. New Year’s Eve is a special time in this site of Catholic pligrimidge, as thousands from all over the world gather for the apparition of Our Lady of Medjugorje, where six local children claimed they had seen visions of the Virgin Mary. A statue marks this miraculous place, and the messages associated have caused a strong following among Catholics worldwide.
For Orthodox Christians, celebrations between January 6th and 7th at Banja Luka are of particular interest for their richness and uniqueness. One such tradition is that locals spread straw on the floor. Then, the oldest woman in the family comes in and clucks like a chicken and begins throwing candy into the straw. The Badnjak tree is a Serbian tradition where a log brought into the house and placed on the fire on the evening of Christmas Eve, accompanied by elaborate ritual and prayers, ensures that the next year brings food, happiness, love, luck, and riches.
The following song, translated into English, is often sung by Serbian Orthodox Christians on Christmas Eve:
Christmas is seated in the grass,
clothèd in a red overcoat.
He calls from across the water,
“Carry me over the water;
do not send me old grandmothers,
old grandmothers are feeblish,
they will let me fall;
do not send me youthful damsels,
youthful damsels are frolicsome,
they will throw me;
do not send little brides to me,
little brides are embroiderers,
they will prick me;
but send me a head of household
to take me across,
household head will celebrate me
as long as he lives.”