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How to Survive a Serbian Easter Extravaganza

April 25, 2011

I don’t know much about a lot of things, but I have learned a few valuable lessons since marrying the Serb. More than a few of these lessons concern Serbian holidays: New Year’s, Slava and Easter are all unknown quantities for a semi-wiccan WASP from the prairies. Here are some essential guidelines for making it through the day:

My Easter morning began at five o’clock, when my family joined our daughter’s hippie nursery school class on the shore of Lake Ontario. Every year they hold an enchanting celebration that involves watching the sunrise, singing some songs and hunting for eggs (not the chocolate kind). It was an amazing start to the day, but the day felt like it should’ve been over by four o’clock that afternoon.

Lesson: Pacing is everything – stock up on Red Bull or nap in the car between visits.

One of those kids is mine. It was too early and dark to be sure exactly which one.

Serbs love their slippers. When you remove your shoes in their home, you will immediately be handed a pair of slippers, regardless of your outfit. God help you if you refuse their slippers and you’re wearing nylons.

Lesson: Stick with basic black – it goes with everything.

As Mr. Gunn would say, "Make it work..."

Spare clothes
It’s a very long day, full of chocolate, juice boxes and other hazards. As anal vigilant as I am, accidents are unavoidable. Yesterday was a prime example: my three-year-old wet her pants and I was caught unprepared. Luckily, she fit into our cousin’s rolled-up leggings. Our twenty-something cousin with the perfect hair.

Lesson: Don’t stand next to skinny cousin for photos.

Why yes, that is an AK-47 she's holding...

Iron gut
Rakija (pron. rak-ee-ya) is a Balkan brandy that could remove rust from a bumper. Despite my protests, I’m always given an overflowing glass. In eleven years of marriage, I’ve probably had less than a full shot.

Lesson: Take a few fake sips, excuse yourself from the table, and immediately apply a soothing balm to your mouth.

Serbia’s version of the Caramilk secret.

Express yourself
Hauling a Serbian/English dictionary to family gatherings is uncouth and tiring, so I rely on key phrases to get me through the day: My husband is beautiful and I smell stinky farts are sure to get a laugh from the aunties.

Lesson: Do not utter any other words my husband has taught me – if I said them in Sarajevo, I’d be arrested.

Sweet tooth
I’ve been trying to convince one aunt to open a bakery because her cookies are like nothing I’ve ever tasted. But they’re just brought out to cut the sweetness of the cakes (yes, plural). Dessert is its own food group in the Serbian diet and if you refuse to partake – as I did yesterday – they look at you like Andrea Martin in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when she learns the fiancé is a vegetarian (“What you mean you no want no meat?”).

Lesson: Take some cookies on your plate and then wait for the three-year-old to come by and pilfer them.

Feel free to lick your screen.

Which brings us to the final lesson, perhaps the most important one of all:

Wear stretchy pants
Meat, cheese and bread are the staples of Serbian cuisine – combine these with homemade hooch and decadent desserts, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for splitting seams.

Lesson: Don’t eat for a few days before your visit, buy some TUMS and enjoy the ride.

32 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2011 7:53 am

    That sounds divine, although I don’t think I could have resisted those cookies. I’m pretty sure I would have had one of each. You have willpower of steel.

    We went for a muddy hike in the morning. It was supposed to rain on us all day but surprisingly, it was nice in the morning so we postponed easter lunch to easter dinner so we could get out for a bit.

    • April 25, 2011 5:43 pm

      So nice to hear of relaxing holidays…and believe me, I’ve had more than a few cookies in my time… 😉

  2. April 25, 2011 8:22 am

    Sounds fabulous! Slippers, drinks, plus dessert in stretchy pants!

    And I think you need a Congressional Medal of Honor for resisting those cookies. Wow. What willpower!

  3. April 25, 2011 8:50 am

    That sounds like a glorious Easter to me 🙂 I won’t lie…I totally wanted to make out with my computer screen when I saw the goodies. Nom Nom Nom

  4. April 25, 2011 8:50 am

    Believe me, any cookies resisted this time were more than made up for at other gatherings 😉

  5. April 25, 2011 10:36 am

    My wife’s family is Greek – it’s funny how I’m chuckling to a number of these, though the differences are there. Our service starts at 11PM and goes until the wee-hours (seriously, I left the church at 3am, was home by 4…I did not stay awake for the sunrise). Ouzo is the alcohol of choice, always served as a shot (or taken directly from a bottle)

    There is a lot of meat served. I mean, a lot of meat – typically an entire spit-roast lamb, 2-3 deep fried turkeys, some form of beef, lamb chops, pork chops . . . the Greeks take the Lenten fast quite seriously . . . and the breaking of said fast way more seriously. I ate meat for the first time in a year yesterday (my tummy is still paying for it – but damn was it tasty).

  6. April 25, 2011 11:17 am

    Sounds like a wonderful day! I have this thing about others’ family traditions that are different than mine – I just love it!

    • April 25, 2011 5:44 pm

      Me too – my parents, etc think the Serb side is very exotic – they love the stories!

  7. April 25, 2011 1:33 pm

    OMG the cookies. I will be happy to support your gluten-free choice by eating these for you. you live where? They have FedEx, yes?

    • April 25, 2011 5:45 pm

      I have a box of leftovers I’m eyeing – they are yours if you want them…thank you so much for your selfless support 😉 !

  8. April 25, 2011 2:12 pm

    I’d probably spend more time with my in-laws if they had that hooch and those desserts.

    (And if they didn’t speak English.)

    • April 25, 2011 5:45 pm

      HA! The limited english is a blessing and a curse with the in-laws, that is for sure…

  9. April 25, 2011 3:38 pm


    I’m amazed you managed to get up to watch the sun rise. Wouldn’t sunset be so much better for all involved? Even the eggs?

    Those cookies are killing me.

    PS YES! Let’s do a blogher type shindig. I’d love that. Because funny? Is where it’s at.

    • April 25, 2011 5:46 pm

      The sunset would’ve been amazing. With a bonfire. And booze. And, of course, cookies. The aunt who makes them is starting to get ready for her daughter’s wedding…600 people, all expecting cookies!

  10. April 25, 2011 4:55 pm

    What……no recipes? Sob.

  11. April 25, 2011 6:00 pm

    You always make me smile…and laugh! And boy do those cookies look yummy!

  12. April 26, 2011 12:20 am

    I love MBFGW. Nia Vardalos rocks. And so do you.

    Thanks for the laugh. I love cultural dinners. I wanted to be there.

    • April 26, 2011 8:47 pm

      Just move here already. I’ll smother you in cabbage rolls and cookies! 😀

  13. April 26, 2011 1:03 pm

    Don’t stand next to skinny cousins for photos – LOVE it!

    I have a friend (who is 55, never had kids, has no hips and runs ultra marathons. bitch).

    A while back she started giving me pants of hers that didn’t fit anymore. Gee, thanks.

    When she got down to sizes like 0 and 00, I said, Ummmmm…..just exactly who did you imagine would wear these?

    She said, “Karly.” My 11-year-old daughter.

    Like I said. Bitch. But generous, right?

    • April 26, 2011 7:33 pm

      Frig – generous bitches are the worst – you gotta love ’em while you despise ’em…

  14. April 26, 2011 6:26 pm

    um. let me get this straight.

    your three year old daughter and 20-something year old cousin have the same size legs…?


    • April 26, 2011 7:33 pm

      Well…they were a bit baggy on my daughter and tight on the cousin, but yeah: total wtf.

    • April 27, 2011 6:54 am

      I should add that they had to be rolled up a couple of feet – my daughter is not a giant, nor is the cousin a leprechaun… 🙂

  15. April 27, 2011 5:34 am

    I’ve been living in Belgrade for 6 months now and I’ve already become completely accustomed to huge meals, rakija, and the need to have dessert with every meal. Thanks for helping me remember that this is not the norm! It is delicious though.

  16. April 27, 2011 3:34 pm

    This sounds awesome!!!! Can I join your family? I come with a free cat.
    Tim would be proud, you TOTALLY made that work!

    • May 1, 2011 8:50 pm

      I would LOVE you to join my family…no, seriously…don’t tease with those kinds of promises…

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