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Three Serbian traditions found their place on the UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity: Slava - a celebration of a family patron saint’s day; Kolo - a traditional folk dance in which dancers hold hands, forming a circle and Singing to the accompaniment of the gusle, a means of preserving centuries-long cultural identity and a symbol of national memory.

Photo: Slava


The Slava is the family's annual ceremony and veneration of their patron saint, a social event at which the family is together at the house of the patriarch (head of the household). Also, the friends of the family come to the patriarch's house, usually without a prior invitation. The family saint is inherited from the patriarch – from father to son, while women adopt the patron saint of their husbands upon marriage. As several patron saints are venerated twice a year, the main day is the Slava, while the secondary one is called preslava. Some families may celebrate another patron saint in the case when the wife is the only left of her kin, in respect to her family.  In cases where the daughter's husband has joined (traditional) household of the parents-in-law ("prizet"/"domazet" = "by-son-in-law"/"son-in-law-in-the-home"), the wife's father's slava is celebrated as the main one (when guests are expected and/or invited) and the son-in-law's only as an additional lesser one (when just a festive meal is prepared for the family and no manual work is carried out, but no guests are expected).


The tradition is an important part of Serbian identity. Besides present day Serbia, Slava is also common in some of the territories where Serbian medieval state extended its rule and cultural influence, but not only there. 

Serbian Kolo

In Southeastern Europe, the South Slavic people traditionally dance the circle dance, known as kolo named after the circle formed by the dancers. It is known as horo (Bulgarian: хоро) in Bulgaria and oro (Macedonian: оро) in North Macedonia and Montenegro. The circle dance is usually performed amongst groups of at least three people and up to several dozen people. Dancers hold each other's hands or each other's waists. They form a circle, a single chain or multiple parallel lines. Kolo requires almost no movement above the waist. The basic steps are easy to learn. Experienced dancers demonstrate virtuosity by adding different ornamental elements, such as syncopated steps. Each region has at least one unique kolo. It is difficult to master the dance and even most experienced dancers cannot master all of them. Kolo is performed at weddings, social, cultural, and religious ceremonies Some dances require both men and women to dance together, others require only the men or only the women.The music is generally fast-paced. The dance was used by Antonín Dvořák in his Slavonic Dances – the Serbian kolo is the seventh dance from opus 72. Traditional dance costumes vary from region to region. Costumes from bordering regions are more similar to each other.

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Photo: Ansambl Kolo
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Photo: Gusle

Singing to the accompaniment of the Gusle

The Serbian Gusle is a one-stringed instrument that is usually made of maple wood. A guslar is an individual capable of reproducing and composing poems about heroes and historical events to the accompaniment of this instrument, usually in the decasyllable meter. There are records of an instrument named gusle (гоусли) being played at the court of the 13th-century Serbian King Stefan Nemanjić, but it is not certain whether the term was used in its present-day meaning or it denoted some other kind of string instrument. 


The gusle has played a significant role in the history of Serbian epic poetry because of its association with the centuries-old patriotic oral legacy. Most of the epic poetry is about the era of the Ottoman occupation and the struggle for the liberation from it. With the efforts of philologist, anthropologist and linguist Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, many of these epic poems have been collected and published in books in the first half of the 19th century. Serbian folk poetry was given a marvelous reception, as it appeared in Europe when Romanticism was in full bloom. This poetry, which appeared in Karadžić's anthological collections, met the "expectations" of the sophisticated European audience, becoming a living confirmation of Herder's and Grimm's ideas about the oral tradition. Jacob Grimm began to learn Serbian so that he could read the original poems. He wrote minute analyses of each new volume of Serbian folk songs. He ranked them as being equal to the Song of Songs, as did Goethe somewhat later. Thanks to Grimm, moreover to the initiatives of the well-educated and wise Slovene Jernej Kopitar (the censor for Slavic books, Karadžić's counselor and protector), Serbian folk literature found its place in the literature of the world.


Singing to the accompaniment of the gusle as a part of Serbia's tradition was inscribed in 2018 on the Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists of UNESCO.

"It is that from the past which affects the present but also conditions the future.” – Ivo Andrić


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