As with all countries that celebrate Easter, Serbia has its own traditions for the holiday, including fasting, coloring eggs, praying and spending time with family and friends. Easter is an observant yet joyous holiday, signifying the day Orthodox Serbians believe Jesus was resurrected, at the time of year when spring is emerging, bringing the themes of rebirth and renewal to light.
The Easter Fast
The 46-day Lenten fast for Serbians and other Orthodox Christians is strict. Whereas Western Christians, for whom Sundays are exempt, fast for just 40 days, Orthodox Christians also fast on the six Sundays during Lent. The fast is meant to prepare Christians for the Easter Sunday communion and to purify their bodies and minds.
The Serbian Orthodox fast requires the observant to eliminate several main foods from their diets: Not only is meat abstained from for the entire 46 days, but eggs and dairy products as well. But there are many Serbian Lent recipes that are delicious and fulfilling enough to eliminate any feelings of deprivation, such as đuveč (vegetable casserole), vegetarian sarma (stuffed cabbage) and pasulj (white bean soup).
Grandmothers, mothers, and daughters traditionally gather on Good Friday to boil and dye eggs; the remaining members of the family join afterward to help decorate. The customary Serbian way to dye and decorate eggs is to use onion and flowers. The eggs are boiled in a pot of water and onion skins, and before adding to the pot, flowers are put onto the shells; the eggs are put into a sock and then placed in the pot. The result is a beautiful flower silhouette on a brown or purple shell. This takes a lot of time and effort, so some people choose to dye the eggs simply using food coloring. The eggs are usually red symbolizing happiness, joy, rebirth and the blood of Christ.
Following Easter church services, families have their baskets of colored eggs blessed by the parish priest. Later families exchange eggs and say, "Hristos Voskrese" (Christ is risen)! The response is "Voistinu Voskrese" (Indeed, He is risen)!
These eggs are not only admired for their beauty but are also tested for their strength. Each person chooses a favorite egg and then smashes it against another person's egg to see whose will remain unscathed. The surviving egg (and egg owner) is the champion, and these eggs are often exchanged as gifts to friends and family when visiting.
First and foremost, Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but it's also the opportunity to break the fast with great quantities of food. Only then do the festivities begin. Families have their favorite dishes but, traditionally, the meal begins with hors d'oeuvres of smoked meats and cheeses, avjar (roasted eggplant-pepper spread), boiled eggs and red wine.
Then, the dinner is laid on a table set with the finest hand-crocheted tablecloth, china, crystal and silver, and with a candelabra of three beeswax candles representing the Holy Trinity.
The meal usually starts with chicken noodle soup or chorba od janjetina (lamb vegetable soup), followed by a spit roasted lamb. Many Serbian Orthodox churches have a community spit where each family has its spring lamb cooked.
The food offerings are rounded out by meat sarma, numerous salads, vegetables, bread, (a savory strudel sometimes made with aged kajmak) and pastries and tortes of all types for dessert.