So, what is your slava, or are you wondering what in the world a slava is? Well, a slava is a Serbian Orthodox tradition which would translate into a sort of family saint day. Back when the Greeks converted the Serbian people into Orthodoxy, each family got baptized into the church. Each family was then given the closest saint to their day of baptism. This saint became their slava, which literally translates into “glory.” That particular saint is then celebrated or glorified for three days. The saint protects the family and watches over each and every member, while the family pray to him/her and celebrates their ancestor’s entrance into the church through their baptism.
My family’s saint is St. John the Baptist. The week before his feast day, our slava, we cook, cook, and cook! Typical Serbian meals are prepared in order to serve guests for three days. The night before the slava, the oldest woman in the house makes a special bread called slavski kolac which is decorated with various decorations, and she also cooks a medium sized bowl of wheat. The cooked wheat can be sweetened and so forth, depending on the family’s tradition. The next day, for the feast day, the oldest male typically takes the wheat and bread to church. After liturgy, the priest reads specific prayers for the cutting of the bread and the blessing of the wheat. The priest blesses the bread, cuts it, and then it is spun in a circle by the family while a special hymn is sung. Then, wine gets poured in the shape of a cross onto the cut bread. The wheat is then blessed with special prayers that mention the family and the deceased of the family.
After liturgy, the family goes home to prepare for the coming of the guests. First, the oldest male in the house lights a very big candle (slavska sveca), and he and other males in the house rotate throughout the day. They rotate because one male has to be standing at all times while the candle is lit during the first day of the slava. Guests then come to enjoy the food and to celebrate the baptism of this family. Each guest is greeted with a spoon of the wheat and a piece of the bread. At the end of the day, the oldest male takes a piece of the bread, pours wine onto it, reads a prayer of thanks for their saint, and then puts out the candle with the bread and eats that piece.
The slava not only celebrates the baptism and commemorates their protector saint, it also brings the family together and all their friends. People visit each other for their slavas and spend time rejoicing and thanking God and their saints for being Orthodox. During the vast wars in Serbia, people hid their best flour, drinks, etc. for the slava. No matter where the Serb was or under what condition, he always found a way to celebrate his slava. The slava is a Serbian tradition, however, anyone can take one with the blessing of their parish. So, do you have a slava, or would you like to have one?