Christmas in Serbia – Customs and Traditions

Let's learn all about the Christmas customs and traditions in Serbia!

Christmas is a period of joy, celebrations, and festivities all across Serbia. The chilly tickles of the snowflakes falling from the sky and the buttery taste of cheese after the Advent period are all some of the exceptional features that make Christmas in Serbia memorable.

The Serbian Christmas traditions are centuries old and if you are looking for a perfect European country for Christmas – Serbia is one to visit.  The country has various customs and traditions that date back to the pagan times and even those that were often observed during the Soviet era. 

However, it is important to understand that the country has made huge progress in the past and you can now indulge in the ancient traditions as well as the Western Christmas traditions. The Serbs are varied when it comes to religion and how they enjoy their Christmas. The Orthodox will celebrate their Christmas on January 7 while the others will celebrate on the usual day of 25 December.

The Serbs enjoy their two Christmases and the people in the country are known to embrace each other. The most common form of greeting that you are going to hear during this period is Srećni božićni, which means Merry Christmas. This is part of the Serbian tradition because they will send each other season’s greetings and you will find that the people are very friendly and welcoming during this period. The greetings will vary in intonation across the country; however, it is common to say so in almost every part of the country.

Christmas traditions and customs in Serbia

The festive season usually arrives in late autumn, and this continues through the winter period. If you are visiting Serbia for your holidays, then you are likely to meet people enjoying their time in different zones. Here are some of the most common traditions across the country.

St. Nicholas Day

St. Nicholas Day is one of the most important Serbian holidays as many people celebrate it. St. Nicholas is a character who is known to bring presents to the children, and his day is celebrated on December 19. The person dressed up as a saint gives all kinds of presents such as candies, and sweets to children who behaved well throughout the year while those who are troublesome will get twigs or pieces of wood.

This is to discipline the children and show them that good behavior is rewarded while bad behavior is punished. Many children across the country usually wait patiently for this day.

Wheat sprouts

In addition to the visit by St. Nicholas, it is important to note that the people in Serbia usually indulge in one of the unique traditions and that is putting wheat in wet dishes for them to sprout. These wheat sprouts are usually eaten during the Christmas period. 

In order for the sprouts to grow, you need adequate water and light and it is vital that you choose a perfect spot where you know that they will easily thrive.

Family bonding holidays 

Christmas holidays in Serbia are known to be a bonding time for the whole family.

Before Christmas, the Serbians are known to celebrate three holidays. The first holiday is detinjci, which is celebrated three Sundays before Christmas Day. This is an important part of the Christmas tradition because it is a celebration for the children, and you will find that people participate in all manner of games and fun activities.  It is more of a family bonding time than a celebration. The parents will tie their children with a scarf or ribbon before they can wake up. The children will then have to redeem themselves by giving small gifts to the parents such as drawings or singing.

The second Sunday is materice which is Mother’s Day. On this day the children will often tie their mother, aunt, or a female member in the house with a scarf or ribbon and they can redeem themselves by returning or giving the children the gifts they had been given before.

The last Sunday before Christmas is Father’s Day or paterice. During this period, children play with their fathers and the father will get presents for his kids. The people in the country are known to follow these traditions.

Christmas Eve in Serbia

The most common name in Serbia for Christmas Eve is Badnji dan. This is commonly used earlier in the day because after sunset the name changes to Badnje veče. This is one of the most important holidays in Serbia.

During this time, you can learn more about the Serbian Christmas culture and traditions. Dinner is served in copious amounts  after the fasting period ends.


This is an oak log or branch that is brought into the house on Christmas Eve, and it is placed on the fireplace in the evening on Christmas Eve. 

This log is similar to a yule log that is often brought into the house in different countries across Europe. Early on Christmas Eve, the male family members will accompany the elder in the family to the forest to look for the best log. During this period, they are going to bring the best log that is going to keep the fire burning.

It is common to find that they mostly use Turkey oak although it might vary in some regions. Once the elder of the males finds the perfect tree, they will throw some grain while facing east and greet it with happy Christmas Eve, he will then pray and kiss the tree before cutting it down. It is believed that the tree should fall to the east without any hindrance, and it is cut using an axe in a size that can be carried by men on their shoulders.

The log is placed at the entrance of the house and in the evening, they will bring it inside and put it into the fireplace. The common tradition for any other log that is brought by other family members is that they are laid parallel to the log and the head of the household will put some grains on the log before taking a jug of wine as well. 

The log should keep the family warm throughout the Christmas period. This tradition has been replaced by others, especially in the modern world, and there are places where oak twigs are utilized.

Christmas straws

This is a common yet very important tradition in Serbia. The straws are usually brought to the house in the evening and then spread on the floor. The person who is spreading the straw will make clucking sounds while the other family members will respond to the call as well.

Once this is done, they will then scatter a handful of walnuts over the straw. The tradition has changed over the years, and this is mostly common in the rural parts of the country.

Christmas Eve dinner in Serbia

Once the straws have been spread on the floor and there is a yule log the Christmas festivities can then begin. On Christmas Eve, the head of the household will make a cross sign before lighting a candle that will incense the whole house. It is a common tradition in the rural parts of the country to call the animals by their name and invite them to enjoy the Christmas holidays.

Before any food is served on this day, a thin layer of straws are usually put on the table and covered with a white cloth. This is a symbol of the manger and the cloth that covered Jesus on his birth. Christmas Eve is a fasting day, and you will find that many people across the country prepare meals according to the fasting traditions of the country.

Round unleavened bread is usually served during this period and other meals include cooked beans, roast fish, noodles with walnuts, sauerkraut, wine, and honey. It is a common tradition to leave food on the table once the family and friends have finished eating. This is to allow the deceased family members to be part of the celebration.


Once the Christmas Eve dinner is complete, a group of young people will gather in one house and prepare to sing Christmas carols and recite poems. The group of your men will move from one house to another singing Christmas carols and reciting poems.

They will knock on the door and ask for your permission to sing. After they sing, it is a common tradition to give them gifts such as candies, sweets, and even money. In the rural parts of the country, you will find that people often give those walnuts, cakes, apples, and prunes.

Christmas Day in Serbia

On Christmas Day the celebration usually begins with a loud church bell and the shooting of guns from different parts of the country. During this period, you are going to find that people are in a full celebratory mood. Many people across the country will attend the morning liturgy in their local churches. The message during this period is the birth of Jesus Christ.

No one is allowed to eat before they can eat the prosphora from the church because it is considered a blessing, and it will bring blessings in the coming year. In some counties across Serbia, you will find that people will erect a Christmas tree, and the children will sing Christmas and recite Christmas poems on Christmas day.


A Polažajnik is the first person who will visit the family on Christmas day. These visits can be arranged, or they can be random. It is a common tradition to note that these people are believed to bring a healthy and prosperous new year. It is a lucky charm according to the Serbs and you will find that people will arrange for a boy or man to visit them during this period.

The visitor will step into the house on the right foot first and he will then wish the family a merry Christmas. It is common to find that different people across Serbia will use animals for different purposes during the Christmas period.

Strong water

It is a common tradition in the country for a woman to go to the water resource center whether it is a stream, well, or spring. She will put a maize ear and a bunch of basil in the water as she collects it. The water that is collected during early morning Christmas is believed to have powers and it is often called strong water.

The family will drink it and wash their faces with water before they can begin anything on Christmas day. The custom behind this tradition is that it boosts health.

Christmas dishes in Serbia


This is one of the most popular dishes in Serbia. It is a crucial part of Christmas dinner; this is a round loaf of bread and the bread is accompanied by various rituals and rules. The dough might be prepared from the strong water and there can be a coin or chickpea inserted into the dough.

It is believed that whoever eats the piece with the coin or the chickpea, will be lucky in the next year. In addition to this bread, other items can be baked for this season, and you can see some of the pastries with crosses to symbolize the Lord’s presence or Holy Communion.


This is an important part of the Christmas tradition that you are going to find in the country. During this day, the pig is usually slaughtered, or it can be a sheep. It is part of the Serbian Christmas tradition commonly called pečenica. 

The animal to be slaughtered during this period is usually chosen early and it is raised in a special way for three months before Christmas.

Christmas dinner in Serbia

The most common Christmas dinner dishes that you are going to find in Serbia will vary from one region to another. However, there are common themes, which include grilled pork and grilled sheep. Red wine, bread, bajada sweets, and Oliver salad are also eaten.

Christmas dinner is done in a celebratory way and here you will find friends and family members seated at the dinner table enjoying the meals and drinks. There is a candle that is lit by the head of the household, and they will often propose a toast to Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Koleda is a tradition that you will mostly find in the rural parts of Serbia. Here a group of young men often in costumes will move from one house to another singing Christmas carols and reciting Christmas poems. They are known to perform acts of magic that are meant to summon prosperity, wealth, and good health to the household. The young men are rewarded with fruits, money, and other gifts.

Let’s learn more about Christmas traditions in the neighboring countries as well:

Aurimas Bio

Hi there! I’m Aurimas, a man behind Go Look Explore. I’m passionate about hiking, exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations, and everything outdoors related. Let’s connect.