Serbian Easter Traditions

Traditions, Eggs, and Games

Red Easter Eggs
Red Eggs Are Important to Easter in Serbia. CC BY Jessica Rabbit's Flickr

Serbian Easter, like Easter in the other Eastern European countries, is a holiday replete with customs, ritual, color, and special dishes. Serbians who celebrate Easter generally follow the Orthodox religious calendar, and they call the holiday Vaskrs or Uskrs. The day may also be referred to as Velikden. The traditional Serbian Easter greeting is Hristos vaskrse (Christ has risen) and is responded to with Vaistinu vaskrse (Yes, He has risen).

The Serbian calendar observes several important holidays in preparation for Easter—some of them are described here.

Lazarus’ Saturday

The day when the Church recognizes that Lazarus was raised from the dead is called Vrbica in Serbia and is associated with flowers. Like for Easter in Poland, flowers and willow branches substitute for actual palm leaves; these, instead of being woven into bouquets prior to being taken to mass, are scattered on the church floor and blessed by the priest, after which they are gathered up by the congregation to be woven into decorations to be hung around the home, on doors or by the household icon. On this day, children are given bells to wear so that they can announce the coming of Christ with their ringing.

Good Friday and Egg Decorating Traditions

Customarily, eggs are dyed on Good Friday before Easter. As in Easter in Bulgaria, the red egg holds special importance as a symbol of the holiday, signifying the blood of Christ.

As a result, the first egg to be dyed should be red in color. A red egg is often kept throughout the year, possibly near the household icon, to protect the household until it can be replaced with a new red egg the following Easter.

Though eggs may be dyed with commercial dye in Serbia, natural dyes were typically used—and many families preserve this connection with their past by using dyes found in nature.

Onion skins is the most ubiquitous and easily obtainable dye, and the act of enveloping eggs in onion skins to produce a deep-colored hue dates back centuries and has been practiced widely throughout Eastern Europe. This type of Easter egg may be imprinted with a leaf or a flower that has been pressed between the eggshell and the onion skin, creating a silhouette of the plant on the surface of the egg. Other dyes are made from spices, herbs, or other dyes derived from foods commonly found in the kitchen, such as tea or coffee.

Easter Saturday

Between Good Friday and Easter Day is Easter Saturday, a day for purifying the home by cleaning and tidying up, a day for cooking in preparation for the Easter feast, and a day where egg competitions are held to determine who has produced the most beautiful eggs of the season. The eggs must be admired on this day because they will be cracked and eaten the next day.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday is when families attend church and gather for a meal. It is also the day when the game of egg-tapping is played between siblings or in more serious competitions. An egg is held by each player, who then tap their eggs against their opponent’s. The player’s egg that remains intact is the winner of the game.

A village in Serbia, Mokrin, has heightened this family game to one of public celebration, enacting a strict rulebook and demonstrating the realness of the winning egg with fanfare.

The Easter feast incorporates the broken eggs, while the winning egg is given special honors. In addition to the hard-boiled Easter eggs, the dinner on this day can include a number of dishes. Lamb, different types of salads made from fresh vegetables, and various desserts adorn the Easter table. Serbian Easter bread is often made from braided dough into which colored eggs have been woven, creating a festive centerpiece for the table. Another popular bread is a savory bread shaped like cinnamon rolls, like rosebuds, which can be pulled apart into individual portions.