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A nation’s culture comprises archaeological artefacts, works of art and major architectural works. However, culture also has its intangible elements – rituals, customs, oral traditions, language... This living cultural heritage promotes, maintains and develops cultural diversity and human creativity.To safeguard international intangible cultural heritage and ensure its better visibility, UNESCO has established the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Serbia has contributed two entries to the list of the world’s greatest examples of intangible cultural heritage: “Slava” and “Kolo”.
Most Orthodox Christian families across Serbia practice the Slava in honour of their patron saint, who is believed to be their protector and provider of welfare.
Celebration of the Slava consists of a ritual making of a bloodless sacrifice and a feast which brings together family, friends, neighbours... On this day, the family lights the slava candle, reads prayers and cuts a special ritual bread known as slavski kolač. This ritual bread, imprinted with the Cyrillic equivalents of the letters IS HS NI KA (Greek abbreviation for “Jesus Christ Victor”), is soaked in wine, cut in the shape of a cross and then broken four ways and hoisted, accompanied by words of gratitude to the patron saint and prayers for wellbeing.
Bread, boiled wheat and wine symbolise the blood and body of Christ, but they also stand for fertility and wellbeing. Some families take their ritual bread to church on the day of their Slava or invite a priest to their home to cut the bread.
In addition to its symbolism, the Slava also plays a cohesive role, as it brings together families, relatives and the community. Although associated with the Serbian ethnic community, the Slava as an expression of ethnic identity is also practiced by families of other ethnicities in Serbia.
Kolo, a traditional Serbian folk dance, is seen as a distinguishing feature of Serbian national identity. Virtually everyone in Serbia knows this dance, as it is shared by other ethnic and religious communities as well.
To start a kolo, several dancers join hands and interlink in a semi-circular, circular or winding shape, performing rhythmical steps. The dance is always accompanied by fast-paced music played on a pipe, bagpipes, accordion, trumpet or, more recently, an electric organ.
The first dancer in a kolo, called kolovođa (ringleader), dictates the pace of the dance.
You can join a kolo at any time by joining hands with those who are already interlocked in the dance. This makes the dance ideal for establishing connections and bonding between people, helping them forge a sense of community.