About the Serbian Slava


What is the Slava and what are its characteristics?

For the Serbs the Slava is a big holiday. Just as the Christian churches are dedicated to commemorating a holiday or a saint, the Serbian home, as a church on a small scale, and the Serbian families solemnly celebrate one of the godly ones whom they consider to be their patron and mediator before God. This wonderful pious custom has only the Serbian people, and it arose from the fact that our ancestors, when they accepted Christianity, chose a saintly patron on the day of baptism, just as the name makes clear: "baptismal name". So those who were baptized on the day of St. Nicholas began to celebrate St. Nicholas, those who were baptized on the day of St. George, celebrate St. George, and so on.
On the day of their Slava, their "baptismal name", the Serbs let every work rest and dedicate themselves to the celebration of their patron saint.


The Slava icon

In each Orthodox Serbian home, most often on the east wall of the main room (living room), there is the Slava icon. Above the icon hangs the Kandilo (special oil lamp) and this is lit on Sundays and holidays, while holding the domestic and family prayers in front of the icon.

The Slava water blessing

A few days before the Slava, the priest comes to the house of the revelers to consecrate the Slava water, with which the rooms in the house, as well as the family members are blessed. The housewife uses the rest of the consecrated water for the preparation of slava bread (Kolač). In those regions where Kolač is not prepared, the sacred water is used to prepare other meals for the Slava.

Slava Candle

During the morning, when the Kolač is cut or before the Slava feast, the landlord lights the Slava candle. She always stands on the Slava festive table and burns all day long. As long as the candle burns "the host serves his Slava " and does not sit at the feast day table.

Slava cereals (Žito)

For the Slava is also the Slava-Žito, or Koljivo called, prepared. This is a cooked cereal sweetened with sugar or honey. Grain is the symbol of the resurrection (the corn seeds silted up in the earth, but they bring new life) and this is offered in honor of the celebrated saint, as well as for the eternal rest of the deceased souls of our ancestors and relatives, who celebrated and passed on this Slava to their heirs. Accordingly, the Slava-Žito is prepared for all "baptismal names", as well as for St. Michael the Archangel or St. Ilijas. The Slava-Žito is brought to the church on the day of the Slava, where the priest blesses it with a separate prayer, and at home it is served to each guest before the feast. Most housewives, especially in Serbia, prepare the Slava-Žito as a dessert with ground walnuts.

Slava bread (Kolač)

The Slava-Kolač is actually a decorated cereal bread that, depending on local customs, is brought to the church on the day of the Slava, where the priest, in a separate prayer, cuts it and soaks it with wine, or it becomes home by the landlord even before the festive meal cut and soaked in wine. The Slava bread and the wine are symbols of the Lord Jesus Christ, for He used bread and wine in the Last Supper when He founded the Holy Eucharist.

The folk customs in connection with the baptismal Slava are very different, considering the historical and ethnographic conditions under which various parts of the Serbian people lived. Thus, in regions that had lived under the rule of Austria-Hungary, the Slava-bread is not prepared, but only the Slava-Žito or it is only the Slava water consecrated.


The Slava festival is inherited from father to son. In families without male offspring, the Slava stays in the house and is taken over by the son in law, next to his own Slava. It was also customary that when someone buys a house or a property, he also takes over the slava of the acquired house, next to his own.

In the patriarchal extended families, the bearer of the Slava was the eldest of the extended family and, as long as he was alive, his sons did not celebrate the Slava separately. But if a son had broken away from the family and founded his own family, he was given the possession of the Slava icon as well as the permission to celebrate in his house the Slava, regardless of the fact that his father was still alive.

With the urbanization of the villages, and with the ever-increasing migration into the cities, as well as with the changed living conditions and family relations, the households are divided and the sons become independent with the age of majority, so that the transfer of the Slava comes along with the marriage and the move to an own home or house.

It goes without saying that as a sign of respect for the parents, such an important thing as the founding of a family and the independent celebration of Slava, the son is obliged to begin with the father's knowledge and blessing. But this is part of the sound moral relationships that should prevail between Christian parents and their children. Just as it is not normal from the Christian point of view that a son starts anything important in life, not just celebrating the Slava without first discussing and consulting with the Father, on the other hand it is not normal for a son, only because the father has not yet "handed over" the Slava, on the day of the Slava to be without a candle, Kolač and Žito, as if it were an ordinary day.

According to this, a father sins against his Slava, who does not transfer it to his son, although they no longer live together, even if the son does not come to the father to celebrate the Slava, like the son who does not celebrate his Slava and hides behind the excuse: The father did not transfer the Slava to me. In addition, how long should the grandchildren wait for the grandfather to transfer the Slava to their father, in order to also experience the joy of the Slava festival.

Adult independent sons who live in their own household, should definitely celebrate their Slava. They should inform their father about this and ask for his blessing. If the father refuses to bless and does not want to make the "surrender", the son should seek counsel from his church priest.

Each separate family should have a Slava icon with a Kandilo (oil lamp) in their home, and they should, according to their ability, celebrate their patron saint. To celebrate the Slava, you do not need much: candle, Kolač, wine, Žito, oil for the lamp and incense for the house. If you do not have that, then there is no Slava.

The Slava is not a birthday or a name day (even the birthday has its characteristics like a cake with a certain number of candles) and is not just the holiday dinner and the guests who may not even know why they have been invited.

In conclusion, since the Slava is a festival of the "little home church", the basic Christian unity, the family, it is clear that even the smallest family should celebrate their patron saint.

The feast of the "baptismal name" has become so intertwined with the Orthodox Serbs that they have kept this feast even in times when, for unfortunate reasons, they had to abandon orthodoxy and adopt other religions. So today we find the Slava Festival with Roman Catholic, as well as Muslim families in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in the Western Balkans.

The Serbs have never forgotten their Slava even in the most difficult times. This testifies to us the folk song of "Todor von Stalic" and our grandfathers, who celebrated the festival in the trenches, with an army bread and a part of a candle. Therefore, the popular saying goes: "Who celebrates the Slava – The Slava helps him too!"

Source: Archpriest-stavrofor Dusan Kolundzic, Parish letters.

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