We asked our Imagine Pittsburgh Neighbors for a few of their favorite things about the winter holidays in the Pittsburgh region. From now through the new year, we’ll be sharing them with you. Here’s what globe-trotting Nevena Staresinic, now of Highland Park, has to say.
As one who has traveled widely and lived most recently in Africa, I have grown to love spending Christmas and New Year’s holidays in warm parts of the world; it’s so unreal with no cold and no snow.
But here in Pittsburgh for the past two years, it’s taken me some time to get used to celebrating Christmas in December. As Orthodox Christians, my family celebrates according to the Julian calendar, which means our Christmas Day is Jan. 7. When I was growing up in Belgrade in what was then Yugoslavia (now Serbia), our favorite holiday was Dec. 31 (the more traditional New Year’s Eve), which kicks off the season for us: it means Santa will soon becoming to our house! On Jan. 6, we bring a badnjak (oak branch) into the house and place it on the fire. Some families avoid eating meat or dairy until Jan. 7, instead making a special Christmas Eve meal of cod with potatoes, prebranac (a layered bean and onion dish), meatless sarma (vegetable stuffed cabbage), djuvec (a rice and vegetable casserole), nuts, fresh and dried fruits, and cookies made without dairy and eggs as a way to call attention to the humble beginnings at the center of the Christmas story.
The greeting on Christmas Day is Mir Bozji! Hristos se Rodi! (Peace of God! Christ is Born!). The response is Voistinu Hristos se Rodi! (Indeed, He is born!). The Christmas table centerpiece is cesnica, bread baked with a silver coin baked in; it brings luck to the one who finds it. On Christmas Day our special meal includes pecenica (spit-roasted pig), meat sarma, baked ham, sausage, roasted potatoes with parsley, and desserts galore — nut roll, cheese strudel, apple strudel, log torte, drum torte, fresh and dried fruits and, of course, strong, dark Turkish coffee. We toast our loved ones with slivovitz (plum brandy) or warm vruca rakija (a potent blend of whiskey and slivovitz with honey and spices). After dinner, Christmas Day is spent receiving and visiting friends and family.
This is also the time of many families’ slavas – the annual feast days and glorification of a family’s patron saint. Then of course, there’s also Orthodox New Year’s Eve on Jan. 13, with more celebration, city concerts and fiestas on New Year’s Day. We practically just feast and celebrate throughout January!
What are some of your favorite holiday things? It can be a personal and reverent tradition at home or in a place of worship, or something raucous and public, like snow tubing at Boyce Park, skiing in the Laurel Highlands, or taking a New Year’s Day plunge in the Mon. Does the way you celebrate now differ from the traditions you grew up with? Or if you opt for no traditions at all, how come? Let us know via the Imagine Pittsburgh Facebook page or Twitter feed.
Looking for a new job or career advancement in the new year? Check out the job search engine and other resources at ImaginePittsburgh.com/Work.