Kosovo's Orthodox Christians gather for a quiet, traditional holiday
STRPCE, Kosovo — The streets of Strpce, one of just a few Serbian-majority communities in Kosovo, on Monday were busy with shoppers and workers and people waiting for the bank to open.
The day looked like any other, but wasn’t. It was the day before Christmas for Orthodox Serbs who celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7.
“We will have a special meal and a special fire [Monday night],” said 16-year-old high school student Natalija Redzic. “Tomorrow we will go to church.”
Christians of the Russian and Serbian churches and monks of Mount Athos in Greece celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar in January. Other Orthodox churches, including those of Greece and Bulgaria, have switched to the Gregorian calendar and celebrate the holiday 13 days earlier, on Dec. 25.
Most Kosovar Serbs, who worship in scattered churches in Kosovo that are still protected by Kosovo Force soldiers, do not buy Christmas trees or other secular symbols of the holiday that are popular in Western culture.
“We remain [loyal] to the roots,” Spasic Petar, 60, a farmer said Monday while waiting for a ride in downtown Strpce, which has a population of about 3,000.
Petar said he and his wife would invite their five children for dinner on Monday night, roast a pig and a lamb and drink wine. “It will be a good time,” he said.
On Tuesday, Petar said, his family will go the small Serbian Orthodox church on the edge of town for communion. “We have always gone there … even during the war,” he said.
However now military troops from the Ukraine stand guard near the church.
Petar said tension remains between the Albanian Muslims and the Orthodox Serbs, but he thinks relations are improving.
“I think everyone is still uneasy. But each year without an incident makes it easier,” Petar said.
Fifty-four-year old Porovic Slavisa, a Kosovar Serb, said his family bought a small Christmas tree on Dec. 25. “I think there are some new traditions we like, but we don’t give presents,” said Slavisa, who runs a small fruit-and-vegetable store.
The real celebration is about Jesus Christ and not presents and trees, he said. “[Monday night] we will think about what this means and we will do that [Tuesday] too,” he said.
Some Kosovar Serbs are critical that Albanian Muslims have adopted Westernized traditions of Christmas — like Christmas trees — and incoprorated them into their New Year’s celebrations.
Predrag Ristic, 42, said some Serbians feel the use of Christmas trees, especially by Muslims, is intimidating. “We want our religion to be pure and not corrupted by commercialism,” he said.
Milosavlevic Milivoze, 57, agrees.
“What we want is for everyone to respect each other. We do not mock Muslim traditions, and we do not want someone to mock our traditions,” said Milivoze, a retired farmer.
On Monday, Milvoze walked into town from his farmhouse to buy some candles. “We will eat by candlelight, and we will pray,” Milivoze said. “I will pray that we all get along better.”