Sunday 6 January 2019


A young oak covered in golden leaves is the traditional Christmas tree in Serbia. Felling, bringing in, and burning of "badnjak" (as Christmas tree is called in Serbian) are surrounded by elaborate rituals and are the central part of the Serbian Christmas

The cutting of "badnjak", young oak tree used as a Christmas tree in Serbia, was accompanied by elaborate rituals which directly linked the oak with the sun and fertility and identify the oak tree as the earthly seat of the sky god.

"Good morning and happy Christmas Eve to you, o Holy Badnjak. I have come to take you to my home, to be my faithful helper to every progress and improvement, in the house, i the pen, in the field, and in every place" Part of the Oak cutting ceremony.

According to the old tradition, Badnjak (Yule log) is cut early on Christmas Eve, before sunrise. When the head of the household finds a suitable tree, a young straight oak full of golden leaves, he stands in front of it facing east. This shows that the Badnjak oak is directly connected with the sun and the solar cult. The head of the household then throws some wheat at the Badnjak as a sacrifice. This shows that the Badnjak oak is also directly linked to the grain agriculture which is directly dependent on the sun...After throwing grain at the tree, the head of the household greets it with the words "Good morning and happy Christmas Eve to you". He then says the prayer, makes the sign of the cross and kisses the tree. The tree is sometimes addressed as "Holy Badnjak". The head of the household may also explain to the tree why it will be cut: "I have come to you to take you to my home, to be my faithful helper to every progress and improvement, in the house, i the pen, in the field, and in every place". The fact that the Badnjak Oak is directly addressed, and it is addressed as a being of power, shows that the oak tree was itself regarded as sacred or even as a deity in its own right. The head of the household then cuts the tree slantwise on its eastern side, using an axe. Some men put their gloves on before they cut the tree, and from that moment on, never touch Badnjak with their bare hands. The tree once cut should fall to the east, unhindered by surrounding trees. It must not be left half-cut as then it will curse the house and the man who cut it. In some regions, if the tree is not cut down after the third blow of the axe, then it must be pulled and twisted until its trunk breaks. The resulting Badnjak has a so called "beard", the part of the trunk at which it broke off from the base of the tree. This is considered a good luck. In Šumadija, half of the circular loaf of bread, which is especially made for this purpose, is left on the stump, the other half being eaten on the way home...This is the second wheat sacrifice made to the Badnjak, and another indication of the direct link between Badnjak and grain agriculture...In some regions, the stump is covered with moss and dry leaves, and it is visited again in the spring. The stump sprouting through the cover is an omen of good luck and prosperity...

Series of pictures showing the ritual cutting of Badnjak in Leskovac, southern Serbia. Source Youtube video

1. Finding young oak

2. Saying prayer

3. Sharing bread with the oak

4. Sharing brandy with the oak

5. Addressing oak: "O Badnjak, Dadnjak our happy (lucky) cousin"

6. Kissing of the oak

7. Cutting of the oak

 8. Carrying

Once in the home, the badnjak (Serbian Yule log) is leaned vertically against the house where it spends the day. In parts of eastern Serbia and Kosovo the badnjak is wrapped in a man's or a boy's shirt swaddled like a baby. 

The Badnjak (Serbian Yule log) is brought into the house after dark on Christmas Eve.

Generally each family cuts only one Badnjak (Yule log). But in some areas one Badnjak is cut per male member of the family and in some areas one Badnjak is cut for men one for women and one for children..

Immediately after the badnjak has been brought in, or immediately before in some places, an armful of straw is spread over the floor. A handful of nuts and dried fruit is strewn over the straw for the children and one nut is put in every corner for the dead.


At the same time, all sharp metal objects are removed from the house, probably because they attract lightning. Bringing oak into the house probably means that Perun the thunder god is also invited into the house, oak being the holy tree of the thunder good Perun.

The Christmas eve dinner in Serbia was in the past always eaten on the floor. It was not a meal eaten only by the living members of the family, but by all the dead ancestors as well.

The culmination of the Badnjak (Yule log) ceremonies is its ceremonial placing on the fireplace and its burning. 

After the Badnjak (Serbian Yule log, usually a young oak log) is placed on the fireplace, it is kissed and offered various food sacrifices

The head of the household pours some wine and throws some wheat grains on the burning Badnjak (Serbian Yule log) while saying "Hail Badnjak! I give you wheat and wine, and you give me every good thing and peace!" 

Once placed on the fireplace, it is imperative that Yule logs burn all through the Christmas Night, or bad luck would befall the family. Watching over Yule logs (Badnjaks), 1937 village Stragari, Jasenica, Central Serbia.

The Badnjak (Serbian Yule log) ceremonies finish on the Christmas Morning, when "Položajnik" (The first footer) visits the house and performs fire striking divination ritual. 

 You can read more about the first footer tradition in Serbia (and other parts of Europe) in my post "First footer".


  1. So, was it on xmas eve, or the eve of the longest night?

    1. Originally probably the longest (winter solstice) night. Now Christmas Eve night.

  2. Excellent. Thank you, although I value such young oaks too much to sacrifice them.


  3. Thanks, fascinating post as I see how it was possible for the Yule Log to be burnt throughout all the twelve days of Christmas - it works if it is a very long log, rather than a very large, thick log, as I had always imagined...

  4. Very nice. The customs are similar to many Slavic cultures. The first ones recorded originate in Macedonia, (Dodona, ceremonial crown of Argead dynasty) and from there, as most of the Slavic traditiions, spreaded to other Slavic peoples...