Serbian Christmas Eve (Badnje Veče) Recipes

A Meatless Meal Traditionally Marks the Occasion

Most Serbians are Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar, with, Christmas Eve celebrated on January 6 and Christmas on January 7. In the old days, on Christmas Eve morning, Serbian fathers took their eldest son to chop down (or in more recent times, buy) a young oak tree called a badnjak.

Families celebrate Christmas with a festive badnjak burning at night followed by a meatless meal that varies from family to family. Typically, though, wheatgrass planted on St. Nicholas Day, symbolizing a good harvest, and česnica, a sweet bread for Christmas morning, are on the table.

  • 01 of 08

    Serbian Christmas Bread Recipe (Česnica or Božićna Kolač)

    Serbian Christmas bread sweet recipe

    The Spruce / Katarina Zunic

    The česnica or božićna kolač, also known as "money bread," goes out on the table on Christmas Eve, but no one can eat it until Christmas morning, when everyone breaks off a piece, saving one for the polozajnik or first guest to visit. Tradition says whoever finds the coin baked inside their piece gets good luck for the rest of the year.

  • 02 of 08

    Serbian Dried Fruit Compote Recipe (Suvo Voće)

    Polish Dried Fruit Compote (Kompot) Recipe

     The Spruce

    Sometimes a dried fruit compote, or suvo voće, gets eaten before the meal begins—sometimes afterward as dessert. It can contain any combination of dried fruit, though it usually contains prunes, that have been cooked in water and sugar until they turn tender. The cooking liquid is as prized as the fruit. In Polish, this is known as kompot, and the same recipe works for a Serbian Christmas Eve.

  • 03 of 08

    Serbian Meatless Soup Recipes (Posna Supa)

    Serbian Meatless Bean Soup (Pasulj)

    The Spruce / Barbara Rolek

    The Christmas Eve meal generally includes a soup course. It might be čorba od patlidžana (tomato soup), fish soup, or meatless pasulj (bean soup). But it's nearly always sopped up with Lenten or fasting pogacha bread.

  • 04 of 08

    Serbian Lenten or Fasting Pogacha Bread Recipe

    Serbian Pogacha Bread
    Başak / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Since Serbians fast during Advent, meaning no eggs, dairy, or butter, the bread served at the Christmas Eve dinner must be free of these ingredients. This Lenten or fasting pogacha is used to sop up the soup course and to enjoy with ajvar, an eggplant-pepper spread. For non-fasting occasions, you can use a different pogacha recipe.

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  • 05 of 08

    Serbian Bean Dish Recipes

    A bowl of Pasulj next to some peppers
    Ivana Sokolović / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    Beans are considered a lucky food, but they also make a perfect fasting food. Salata od pasulja, a kind of kidney bean salad, often appears on the Christmas menu, as does prebranac, a baked bean dish.

  • 06 of 08

    Serbian Lenten or Fasting Cabbage Rolls (Sarma) Recipe

    Serbian Lenten or Fasting Cabbage Rolls (Sarma) Recipe

    Yuval Hoffman / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0

    For cabbage lovers, these vegetable sarma allow indulgence in a favorite food while still following the church's fasting rules. They're also a great meat alternative for vegetarians at other meals.

  • 07 of 08

    Serbian Fasting or Lenten Dessert Recipes

    Lenten Cookies

    Steve Outram / Getty Images

    For dessert, along with dried fruit compote, fruit, and nuts, some families serve Lenten or fasting cookies—so named because they contain no eggs, milk, or butter, which are prohibited during Advent (and Lent).

  • 08 of 08

    Serbian Hot Toddy Recipe (Vruca Rakija)

    Serbian hot brandy recipe

    The Spruce / Zorica Lakonic

    It wouldn't be Christmas Eve without vruca rakija, a potent hot drink made with whiskey, water, and sugar. Families guard their secret recipes for this traditional welcome drink at Christmas dinner and the Nativity of Christ. Some recipes call for spices to be added to the brew.