As Christmas and Hanukah memories are fading, area Orthodox churches which still follow the Julian calendar are just beginning their Christmas observance.
Families belonging to the St. Luke Serbain Eastern Orthodox Church on 16th Street NW begin their celebration Saturday morning. In accordance with tradition the youngest family member over seven chops down the "bandjac" with three strokes of an ax. Badnjac means Christmas three and a Chirstmas three to Serbs is an oak sapling. (Oak is the nationl tree of Serbia, now a part of Yugoslavia.)
The tree is taken home and decorated with walnuts, small aluminumfoil wrapped apples and red, blue and white ribbons (colors of Serbia).
Many persons of the Serbian Eastern Orthodox faith who follow church and cultural traditions have been on a "strict fast" of Lenten foods (no meat or dairy products) from one to six weeks, according to the Rev. Milan Zobenica, church pastor. Saturday night church members will palce straw under the dinner table and eat a Lenten meal.
Later during Christmas Eve services, families will sing Christmas folk hymns in Serbian and watch the blessing of the church "badnjac" which is broken apart and distributed. Some families hang "icons" (holy pictures) from these branches and use them as decorations.
After services Satruday night Zobenica said as many as 75 of his congregation will remain and drink hot plum brandy punch and drink hot plum brandy punch and eat "chesnice," (good luck bread). The "chesnice" is baked with a silver coin in it. According to Serbian tradition, the person who gets the bread with the coin in it receives all the good luck for the year. The coin is saved and used again the following Christmas.
Some families serve the hot punch and "chesnice" again in their home after services.
In another tradition, Serbian Eastern Orthodox families awake at sunrise on Christmas to the knocking of a "passerby," usually the dearest friend of the family, who is asked to come and read a traditional Christmas poem while sipping honey and wine. "He comes to be the first to wish the family well for the new year," said Zobenica.
On Christmas day traditional Serbina families break their fasts by feasting on a whole pig or part of one.
There are no Christmas presents. "We celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas on Dec. 19," said Zobenica, "and family members take turns giving gifts on different Sundays in December."
Several after area Orthodox churches observing the Julina calendar are celebrating Christmas this weekend, including the Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of the Holy Resurrection, Olney, and Russian Orthodox Chruch of St. Nicholas of the Orthodox Chruch in American, Russian Orthodox Church of St. John the Baptist and St. Andrew's Ukrainian Rothodox Chruch, all in Washington.