Serbian Christmas Eve and the Start of the “Unclean Days”

Meanwhile the sky and deep fecund earth together maintain an important mythological place as the progenitors of divinized natural elements. This persistent centrality of the celestial and chthonic divinities, incarnated in a lower mythology of animistic spirits and demons, is reflected for example in a dualistic cosmogony reconstructed from South Slavic folklore. While all Slavs eventually embraced Christianity, they did so provisionally: never did the substratum of belief in an animated nature and cyclical (agrarian) time disappear entirely, and the oral and ritual folklore among all major branches of the Slavs –the Eastern, the Western, and the Southern – has conserved strong reflexes of pre-Christian Slavic belief.–Francis Dvornak, The Slavs in European History and Civilization (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1986), p. 46.

While the country’s secular calendar is of course Gregorian, Serbia’s liturgical calendar follows the old Julian model, which is roughly two weeks behind the Gregorian method of reckoning time. Hence, instead of observing Christmas on December 25, Serbs the world over commemorate Christ’s Nativity (or Božić) on January 7. What is more remarkable still, from a theological standpoint that showcases the strong Pagan flavor retained in Serbian Orthodox Christianity and in living folk memory, is that unlike in Western Christendom, the “12 Days of Christmas” are officially known in Serbian as the Nekrštani Dani–“the Unclean Days”–when all manner of evil creatures (e.g., vampiri [vampires], džavoli [devils], veštice [witches], karakondžule [demons known for leaping upon travelers’ backs at night and riding them to exhaustion or madness before daybreak]) roam the earth, gaining great strength after sundown each night, wreaking havoc and tormenting people with impunity. Merry effin’ Christmas!
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