Why I'll Never Get Candy on Valentine's Day: Serbian Slava

Kitchen Diary: Anne in South Carolina

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My husband's mother is French, and his father was Serbian. I knew this — and them — when I married him, so I can't complain. After all, there are a lot of advantages. She is a wonderful cook, hostess and teacher, and he was an accomplished and caring doctor who dedicated much of his career to treating people with HIV from the time it first surfaced. He also came from a culture entirely different from my own. (I'm half country, half city, all South Carolina.)

In Serbian culture, Slava is important. Slava is the feast day of the family's patron saint, and our family Slava just happens to fall on St. Valentine's Day, or "Sveti Trifun," as they call him in Serbia.

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On occasion, I suspect that Sveti Trifun is our family saint because the men wanted to get out of doing anything romantic. Or maybe, back in the day, the Postic men were so romantic, this saint was the obvious choice. We'll never know. Honestly, I'm a little embarrassed by mushy displays of love, and celebrating our family Slava on the big day is preferable. If I want chocolate and Champagne, I'll pick them up myself.

Read More: What is Serbian Slava?
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When my father-in-law was alive, we celebrated Slava with him, his priest arriving from a neighboring city to preside over the event. Oddly enough, there aren't many Serbian Orthodox churches here in South Carolina, and he was connected to one in North Carolina. The obligatory traditional dishes, slavski kolac (Slava bread) and žito (wheat pudding), were made by people who knew what they were doing, the ladies of the church or my husband's Serbian cousins. This year, I decided to try them on my own.

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My lone Yugoslavian cookbook called for placing the žito in a feather pillow lined basket overnight. This did not seem practical, so I found another recipe on the internet. I made it. It worked, though I was surprised to learn it contained an actual pound of sugar. "No wonder they tell me not to eat more than one bite," my husband said, when he learned the pudding was made of equal parts sugar, wheat berries and ground walnuts. "And no wonder I like it so much." I did add about a half cup of half and half to mine, to make it creamier, and decorated the top with dried cherries.

Zito on About.com, Eastern European Cooking
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I was more excited to try making the bread. When my fifteen-year-old was little, I used to bake bread fairly often, but our lives have gotten a lot busier and I haven't attempted a loaf in about twelve years. Once again, I found an easy recipe online, and it turned out pretty well!

Slavski kolac on About.com, Eastern European Cooking

I used a little leftover dough to make a small boule to taste, and took it with me to pick up my youngest son from school. He did not believe I had made it. Oh, the different experiences of the youngest and the oldest child. It's almost like they are raised in different families. Some day, I'll tell you about potty training. Or not.

Our family Slava won't take place on the actual day this year, because several of the kids have soccer games and "But it's our Slava!" would have to be accompanied with too much explanation. Given that we certainly won't be following the tradition to a T, it doesn't seem right to make a big deal. We won't have a Serbian priest there, and our own Episcopalian clergy probably don't have a Slava liturgy. (Also, they might actually have plans on Valentine's Day.)

We'll celebrate with bread, wheat pudding, our Sveti Trifun icon, a candle and plenty of wine. My husband, our children, his brother, our sister-in-law and their children will be there, and we'll probably end the evening with a few rounds of pool in the den. We'll probably say a prayer or two, but not in Serbian. Is it authentic? Not one little bit. The Serbian Slava is meant to commemorate the spiritual birth of the Serbian people. For us, it's the perfect time to be with family, share a little Serbian culture with our children, and remember my father in law.

Though we don't do it the right way, I love the idea of having a day to celebrate our family. Do you have any traditions in your family, rooted in a certain culture, that you've made your own?

Dear Half Serbian Husband,

I can do without the chocolate and Champagne (which doesn't go with heavy Serbian dishes any way), but flowers might be nice. Srećna Slava!

Love,
Your South Carolina Wife

(Image credits: Anne Postic)

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