In Montenegro, the religious holidays are often considered national holidays. Since the people here are Catholics and Orthodox Christians, then you will find that they observe Christmas celebrations. A large majority of the people are orthodox Christians and they usually celebrate their Christmas on the 7th of January, commonly called božić. This is the main holiday in the country and people gather from different parts of the country as they celebrate with their family members.
Christmas is one of the happiest holidays in the country and it is a common holiday in the Christian tradition as it is signifying the birth of Jesus. The Montenegrin people put a lot of emphasis on Christmas and put a special kind of energy toward it.
It is important to understand that the Montenegrins usually celebrate two Christmases. The people who follow the Julian calendar will celebrate their Christmas on January 7th, while those that use the Gregorian calendar will celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December.
About 4% of the people in Montenegro are Catholics and over 90% are Orthodox Christians, therefore they follow their Christmas traditions to the latter.
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Christmas traditions in Montenegro
While the dates for Christmas usually vary it is imperative to note that the people in the country celebrate their Christmas with cheer and excitement. During this period, businesses, schools, and other public offices are usually closed. Christmas in Montenegro is all about spending time with the family and celebrating together. It is an important part of the tradition and depending on the region that you are going to visit, you will always find people celebrating this tradition in their way.
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This is one of the most important parts of the Christmas celebration in Montenegro. On Christmas Eve, male members of the family will leave their houses early in the morning and go look for badnjak or the yule log. The most common tree that is used in Montenegro is the oak tree.
The yule log signifies the tree which the shepherds brought to Mary and Joseph and it was used to light the cave where Jesus was born. According to the Orthodox traditions, it is also the tree that was used to crucify Jesus. Therefore, it plays a critical role in the lives of people in Montenegro.
The yule log is usually brought into the house on the evening of Christmas Eve by the male members of the house. Many people will prefer to go and get it from the forest. There are other beliefs or rituals, such as sprinkling their heads with wheat or rice. The yule log is meant to burn throughout the night and it plays a critical role in bringing heat and light that will bond the family members through the Christmas period.
Once the log is lit, the family members usually gather around and they pray before sitting down for a festive dinner. The dinner is usually prepared on Christmas Eve and it is a perfect time for you to try some of the traditional Montenegrin dishes in the region. The dinner table is usually covered in straws and this plays a significant role as it signifies the straws that were put on the manger that Jesus was born in.
People often fast on Christmas Eve and this practice is far more common in Montenegro as it marks the last day of the forty day’s fast. Most dinners in Montenegro are dairy free and meat-free. The common dishes that you will find during this period are potatoes, fish, beans, and priganice, which is a popular dish across Montenegro during the feasting period.
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Gathering by the fire
It is a common tradition that you will find that the people will gather by the fire and they will enjoy sharing stories. Every year there are large bonfires lit by the Montenegrin orthodox churches and this is often common in front of their temples.
The people will gather on the eve of Christmas and they celebrate this occasion by lighting up the badnjak trees. Once this process is finished, the people will often go to church and participate in the holy mass organized at night. The bonfire has become a major tradition, and it helps bring people closer as they get to bond and share stories.
Christmas Eve in Montenegro
The Montenegrins are known to enjoy the holiday in the region and they begin their preparations on Christmas Eve. During this day there are improved Christmas tree cribs which are usually set up in homes and churches. It is a tradition for the people to bring gifts of the magi to baby Jesus and on the third day, they will visit each other and enjoy the Christmas period together.
The symbols that are more common for the Roman Catholics are the cribs, an everlasting green Christmas tree, and an advent wreath. This advent wreath is usually woven from pine twigs and straws and usually decorated with purple ribbons. The wreath has four red candles, and each candle is lit each Sunday until Christmas day arrives. In Montenegro, you will find that red candles are far more commonly used.
Catholic Christmas Day in Montenegro
Christmas in Montenegro begins early in the morning as people greet each other by saying “Christ is born” and this is a common tradition around the country. The tradition usually happens when the first person in the house is called Polaznik. Polaznik will stroke the fire that was lit by the badnjak tree and this is believed that it will bring good luck, blessing, and wealth to the family in the coming year.
Polaznik is a representation of the three wise men who followed the star to the place where Jesus was born. He is often symbolically greeted with a wide array of gifts and thereafter they will enjoy a feast that is composed of lamb, roasted pork, cheese, wine, Njeguši prosciutto, and brandy.
During this period there is popular bread around the country called cesnica that is made from a simple ingredient that includes flour, water and fat – yeast is not used. It is important to note that this bread is often baked on Christmas only.
The bread is usually divided into many parts on Christmas day and this is shared among family members. In some parts of Montenegro, you will find that a silver coin is placed inside the bread as a symbol of a gift to baby Jesus. It is believed that whoever finds the coin will enjoy prosperity and wealth in the coming year. Currently, in some parts, they use chickpeas instead of silver coins.
Further reading: Christmas in Croatia
Christmas traditions for Catholics in Montenegro
It is imperative to note that Montenegro has a wide array of people and there are Catholics and Orthodox Christians. In the traditions of Roman Catholics, the Christmas period is preceded by a forty-day xerophagy and this is usually a symbol of the journey that magi made from the east.
This is similar to the period that Christmas usually lasts and it will end on Christmas Eve or early on the 25th of December. It is one of the most joyful occasions that you will find people from all backgrounds celebrating in different parts of the country.
The people usually come together and organize celebratory parties such as family dinners and they will enjoy a wide array of traditional dishes, and savory meals, and exchange gifts during this period.
January 6th in Montenegro
Christmas Eve, or what is commonly called badnji dan in Montenegro is usually celebrated on January 6th. The day will begin when the head of the family or the male members of the family will go to the forest to get a yule log. They will often get the best tree they can find and they should notify the rest of the people with the gunshots, which is very common during this period.
This is an ancient tradition focused on making log hunting the best experience. Once a prayer is conducted, the head of the family will take three blows of axes to the log as they chop it. It is important to understand that it is prohibited to make more than three strikes on the yule log.
He will then carry the wood to the house and it is a tradition that the log should burn for three days. However, in modern cities where there are no logs to chop, you will find that people use a bunch of branches that are made from oak wood.
January 7th in Montenegro
This is the orthodox Christmas day and according to the ancient traditions in the country, the family members will get up early in the morning and wash up with the ice water. They will then dress up in their festive clothes and thereafter go to church. It is a common tradition around the country and it is more prevalent in rural areas.
In most places, you will hear bells ringing reminding people to go to church. The Christmas church service is usually short and once the mass is over, the people will proceed to their homes where they can enjoy their Christmas feast. The celebration will begin with people drinking a glass of raking and consuming dried fruits.
Christmas lunch usually begins once everyone is at the table. Some of the common dishes that are eaten during this period include pechenitsa and this is often served with pickled and braised cabbages, stewed beans, as well as the liver and the heart of the pig that was slaughtered on Christmas Eve.
During dinner, it is a ritual in Montenegro to share a Christmas cake made from fresh dough. The cake usually has a coin, and people believe that whomever gets the coin will have an exceptional upcoming year. There are fun celebrations, music, and dances that are often organized down the streets of Montenegro.