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Our very own Jasmina shares unique Orthodox traditions and highlights of Serbia’s Winter Markets.

Winter Markets on the Lower Danube 

With an extended Christmas period that lasts until January and a high probability of a dusting of snow, Winter Markets of the Lower Danube region (along the Danube River southeast of Budapest, Hungary) rival those throughout more frequented parts of Europe and are a wonderful place to enjoy the magic of the festive season.  

Cities such as Bucharest, Romania and Vukovar, Croatia are beautifully decorated and there are concerts, theater plays, ice rinks and various fairs, including wine, cheese and honey fairsMany performances are even free of charge.  

Navidad in Novi Sad 

Winterfest in Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia and the capital of the Province of Vojvodina, is the first and oldest Christmas Market in the country. The top attraction is its big Singing Christmas Tree, where youth and adult choirs perform every day in 10 different languages (Serbian, Hungarian, Slovakian, Ruthenian, Croatian, Ladin, Yiddish, English, German and Russian). 

Around 50 wooden chalets are set up in the historic center  Liberty Square. After 30 years, organizers of Winterfest have returned fijaker, horse-drawn carriages, to the streets. Danube Park is at the city’s heart, where you can find the Ice Forest, an ice skating rink covering an area of ​​1,300 square meters. It is festively decorated and boasts Snow City, a winter bazaar featuring the work of local artists and craftsmen, as well as gastronomic specialties and winter delights 

Best Local Delicacies 

Winter on the Lower Danube not only announces itself with snow and awe-inspiring Christmas decorations but also with the smell of donuts, candies, mulled wine and rakija (Serbian brandy). Licitar hearts, colorfully decorated biscuits made of sweet honey dough, are unique to this part of the world and take nearly a month to make from start to finish.  

Visitors can also buy and taste honey, BBQ, grilled meats, various cakes such as kürtőskalács (a spit cake specific to Hungarians from Transylvania) and gugelhupf (a prestige pastry by Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria and popularized in France by Marie-Antoinette) 

Orthodox Traditions Before Christmas 

The Serbian Orthodox Calendar is aligned to the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian, meaning that there is a 13-day delay in the holiday. Christmas comes on the 7th of January and the New Year on the 14th. However, all the holiday festivities start around the 28th of November, and last until after Orthodox Christmas, prolonging the revelry for several weeks.  

In Serbia, it begins with Advent, when Orthodox Christians enter into a 40-day fast that excludes meat, dairy and eggs. By the time Christmas lunch comes around and the fast is broken, a feast is well deserved  and a feast it tends to be, typically with a centerpiece of roast pork. Tradition also dictates that the three consecutive Sundays before Christmas are reserved for children, then mothers, then fathers to give presents – they are tied up and must hand out gifts as ransom in order to be untied. 

During the Holiday 

On the morning of Christmas Eve, the father of the family used to go to the forest to cut a young oak called the badnjak (Christmas Eve tree) – though today people typically purchase oneBadnjak is then burnt like a Yule Log. In fact, there are large bonfires outside churches where oak branches and badnjak are set aflame. On Christmas Day the dawn is greeted with church bells ringing and sometimes people firing guns into the air!  

The first person to enter a house on Christmas Day is called a položajnik and is thought to bring luck to the house and family. Early on Christmas morning, girls traditionally collected water to bring to their family. This was called strong water and was said to have special powers. People would drink some strong water and wash their faces in it before having breakfast. 

At Christmas, a special kind of bread is eaten. It's called česnica and is baked in a round shape. Each member of the family is served a piece (including the house itself). There is a coin hidden inside and whoever receives it will be particularly fortunate in the next year. Other popular Christmas dishes include pečenica (roast pork), sarma (cabbage stuffed with rice and ground meat) and lots of cakes. 

Join us during the extended holiday season on our Gems of Southeast Europe (Christmas) and Grand Danube (Christmas) sailings to visit Novi Sad’s Winterfest as well as markets in Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania! 

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