PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina – For the Stanar family, Bosnian Serbs who are Orthodox Christians, Christmas preparations are a ritual to be handled with an obsession to detail.
Novica Stanar, 65, observes ancient customs in hopes of passing them on to his grandchildren, Selena and Viktor. A poem is read to the oak that will serve as the family's Christmas tree before Stanar cuts it down. The children throw wheat seeds on the spot to show further respect for the tree.
Like many other Orthodox Christians around the world, Serbs observe holidays according to the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar adopted during the 16th century. That means they celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7 instead of Dec. 25.
In Sarajevo, Bosnia's capital, Serbs gathered in the Old Orthodox Church on Christmas Eve for a religious service and then stood around a fire built with dried oak branches. Some families sacrifice sheep and pigs for the traditional Christmas meal.
The four major religions represented in Bosnia — Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Islam and Judaism are observed in Sarajevo despite the brutal 1992-95 war remembered for the ethnic and sectarian violence between Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims.
In the capital and villages of Republika Srpska, the Bosnian entity that is inhabited mostly by Serbs, residents took part in ceremonial horseback parades.
On Christmas Day, children scrambled to break the Christmas bread and to find the golden coin traditionally hidden inside.