Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

The Colonization of a Celebration: The Transformations of Krsna Slava

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

The Colonization of a Celebration: The Transformations of Krsna Slava

Article excerpt

The Serbian Orthodox tradition devotes 78 different days of the year to patron saints to be celebrated according to an elaborate ritual, the Slava, or Krsna Slava. The name of the ritual can be properly translated as celebration, or christened celebration. In the following, we will discuss the changing meaning and institutional position of that celebration. Our discussion will refer to media reports on, and personal participation in the events; to literature on this particular tradition, on Serbian religion and ethnicity, and on the PostSocialist, Post-Yugoslav political change; and as to the theoretical level, to issues about relationships between institutions of different types, resources, and degrees of formality.3 We will demonstrate how in the Post-Socialist Serbia a private, religious ceremony has been transformed into a public celebration of Serbian ethnicity.

Traditionally, the Slava is understood as a family's celebration of a particular saint recognized as the bringer of luck and prosperity. The celebration can last up to three days in a row; at present, the Serbian law allows one paid day off from work for those celebrating the Slava of their own family, but many do in fact need to take some more days off in order to prepare for the occasion. Friends, neighbors and relatives of the organizing family will be receiving an invitation, a refusal of which can be interpreted as an act of disrespect. A media report (Dragovic 2013) estimates the typical cost of the food and drinks offered as corresponding to almost two times the average monthly income. In the Calendar of Saints to be paid homage to, the most popular is the day of St. Nicholas (Nikoljdan) on 19th December, three weeks before the Serbian Orthodox Christmas day. According to a customary saying, on that day everyone will be celebrating, since half of the population is organizing their own Slava, and the other half has been invited.

The Slava is clearly a social institution with strong legitimacy, embedded in a number of wide spread social practices and belief systems, and backed up by several other institutions. A recent institutional recognition originates from UNESCO, which included the Slava in its list of intangible cultural heritage in November 2014 (UNESCO 2014). According to the Nomination filed by the Republic of Serbia,

The celebration of the family patron saint - Slava - is practiced by most Orthodox Christian families throughout the Republic of Serbia as an important family holiday involving individual families and their guests - members of the extended family, neighbors, friends, and local community members (in rural communities).

The Serbs recognize the Slava as a way of expressing their ethnic identity, and they are the bearers of this tradition, but the celebration of the family patron saint is also practiced by Orthodox Christian families of other ethnic communities in Serbia.

Besides the family, we can see that many other institutions are involved: the Church, the state, and all the very real institutions that make up the imagined community of Serbian ethnicity. But it has not always been so. The present position of the Slava is intimately tied with changes in the relations between family, religion, ethnicity, and the state. From an integrated part of a traditional life form, the Slava was during the years of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1946-1991) turned to a system-incompatible, pre-modern remnant barely tolerated. From the 1990s and 2000s on, the Slava has in turn become growingly embraced by the powerful institutions mentioned, and not only by them: the celebration has also turned into a segment of the market for consumption and entertainment.

There are many positions that a cultural practice can occupy in a society. The positions tend to change; usually the process is slow, but sometimes not. The practice can sometimes be articulated alternatively as a part of several different competing discourses - that makes it a "floating signifier" which can receive different meanings (Laclau and Mouffe 1985/2001: 105-114). …

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