Oak branches blessed as Serbian community celebrate Christmas at last

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As most people were packing away their festive decorations, one church was just beginning its Christmas celebrations.

About 100 members of the Serbian Orthodox Church celebrated Christmas Eve on Monday, January 6, with a special service at their community house in Kimbolton Road, Bedford.

Father Milun Kostic led the service in which he blessed the oak branches, or Badnjak, collected by the congregation to symbolise a log placed on the fire at Christmas, much like the yule log.

After the service, the sticks and leaves were gathered up and burnt in a ceremonial fire in the carpark.

The traditional event dates back to when people would take their sticks to church to be blessed, in preparation to warm the baby Jesus.

Celebrations on Tuesday, Christmas Day, included a service at St Paul’s Church, and dinner with pork as the favoured dish with trimmings.

Church member Aleks Simic said: “The only thing we don’t do is watch TV. It’s a family day.”

In England, where the Gregorian calendar is used, January 6 is traditionally considered the last day of Christmas, or Twelfth Night.

The Orthodox Serbian church follows the Julian calendar which places Christmas 13 days after December 25.

About 700 Serbians live around the Bedford area, with the community established here in the late 1940s.