Slava (Cyrillic: Слава) is the Orthodox Christian custom of honoring a family patron saint. It is celebrated by the Serbs, but also in parts of the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria, as well as among some Croats and the Gorani people.
Some also believe the slava to be a remnant from Slavic paganism which had a myriad of gods before adopting Christianity. The Serbs in particular held strongly onto their old Slavic religion; the last pagan temple in Serbia, in Svetovid, was destroyed by Tsar Dušan in the 14th century. That the slava often varies according to geographical regions is claimed as evidence of the above. But even this notion need not contradict the traditional explanation that the slava is celebrated on the day of christening of the first-baptized ancestor, and in fact, it may very well underscore it.
Each household has one or two celebrations per year (depending on the saint in question, for some have two days devoted to them). Yet, only one is the main day of the patron saint feast (and not necessarily the same of the two days for all families); the second celebration is referred to as "little slava" or preslava.
Some families may also celebrate yet another saint to a lesser extent (for example, when the wife is the only descendant of her kinship so the tradition of her slava would otherwise be lost).
Should a particular household move far away, with the father's permission, a son might celebrate the slava in his own home; usually, however, for as long as a family patriarch is alive, his sons should celebrate under his roof.
The occasion brings all of the family together, and a feast is normally prepared, including traditional foods: "slavski kolač" (славски колач) and "koljivo" (кољиво). "Slavski kolač" literally means "the slava cake", although it is actually more similar to bread. Depending on whether the celebration falls during fasting, slavski kolač is made with or without eggs, butter and milk.
The top of the kolač is adorned with the sign of the Cross, the "Dove of Peace", and other symbols that relate to the family. "Koljivo" (also called "žito") is made of boiled wheat. It can be prepared in a variety of ways but most usually includes walnuts, nutmegs and/or cloves, and honey.
The wheat is a symbol of the Resurrection of Christ and deceased family members. Depending on whether the celebration falls in a period of fasting, the rest of the feast consists of animal-free (posni) meals or not (mrsni); thus, colloquially, slavas can be referred to as mrsne or posne.
On the day of the slava, the family attends church services and partakes in Holy Communion. Following the service, the parish priest is received in the family's home. He performs a small service which entails venerating the Saint's memory, blessing the slavski kolač and koljivo, as well as lighting the "slava candle". Though not necessary, it is common for the priest to bless the house and perform a small memorial service for dead relatives.
Many Serbian communities (villages, cities, organizations, political parties, institutions, companies, professions) also celebrate their patron saint. For example, the city of Belgrade celebrates the Ascension as its slava.
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