Ever since the time when the Serbs had their own deities, the vow was celebrated – a collective celebration, which is also called litany or simply village celebration. The origin of the name comes from the word vow, which implies the very origin of this holiday.
The litany or village celebration is celebrated by the entire village. Today, it is celebrated by the fact that every village house welcomes guests from other villages and towns, as if it were a celebration of family patron saint. In contrast to baptismal celebrations, which are distributed mostly in the winter time of the year, litany are always celebrated in warm weather, from late spring to early autumn. The difference is that on the occasion of the litany, the cake and grain are not taken to the church, the candle is not lit in the house, but there are other actions characteristic only for this type of celebration. Today’s form of the celebration of the litany developed on the basis of various beliefs from the pagan era. Instead of liciders, merry-go-rounds and village fairs, which are the main attraction of every vow, once the vow was celebrated in a completely different way. Here’s how.
The Litany or the vow day of a village, city, town… is chosen by the village taking a vow, solemnly promising to celebrate a certain holiday of the year, and on that day there is an absolute ban on work for all members. Locals make vows to a certain saint and expect protection from him.
A big role in this ceremony was played by a sacred tree or a record that is usually found in the atar of the village, and next to it is a larger stone cross. The record is a taboo, sacred tree, mostly oak hundreds of years old. It must not be cut or desecrated in any way, or even slept under. U
in villages where there was no church, the record replaced the place of worship. Even if the record were to be destroyed by some calamity, or it would rot, the place where it was located would be considered “recorded”, sacred. It is considered a great sin if it is damaged in any way, branches are torn or cut. He who does so will pay the curse for himself and his whole family.
Indispensable part of the celebration of the litany are also the village liturgies, which are formed by the villagers who, together with the priest, carry church crosses into the field in a procession, and therefore the litany is called cross-bearers in some regions. On the day of the litany, a ritual procession made up of male members of the village household started from the church or main register, carrying icons, crosses and banners. It is a lithia that circled around the village and restored the previously engraved crosses on the inscriptions and thus created a magic circle that should protect its fields and inhabitants.
Along the way, women would ritually pour grain and water on the participants of the procession. Sick people were also brought before the cross-bearers with the aim of being healed. Ritual songs with the characteristic refrain “Lord, have mercy” were also sung in the procession. On its way, the procession tries to cross some water, where they wet crosses and flags, and in some places they even try to “sacrifice” the priest himself by knocking him down and bathing him in water. There is no doubt that this is a rite with distinctly pagan and Christian elements.
The participants of the procession pray to God for rain all the time in the procession. It is an agrarian ritual in which crops should be provided with enough rain but also protected from other disasters, pests and diseases. Also, ensure good health and fertility of livestock, but also health and harmony for all the locals.
The continuation of the ritual consisted of the female participants of the ritual tying the flower of the zapis and addressing him as a living deity. The record is sanctified with incense and oil. Then the ritual slaughter of the victim (a sheep or a lock) celebrated by the host, the cake is cut, and then there is a collective sacred feast.
In collective rites, in addition to the living, the dead also participate symbolically. The living expect affection and help from them, so they send them music, dance and food through the living members. In north-eastern Serbia, the litany also had the character of a memorial service. In the afternoon, the women went to cemeteries and distributed food for the souls of the deceased. In the votive afternoon, a circle was played for the soul of the deceased who had almost died, and candles, flowers, a mirror and a picture of the deceased were brought to the circle as props.
Although the above-described rituals during the celebration of the litany are rarely practiced in any village today, the institution of the litany is very important and present in every Serbian village. Pagan cults and rituals at the end of the record were replaced by the common going of all the villagers to the church, on the day when the village thanks the saint to whom they vowed. The second part of the day has a social character – going to the fair, hanging out with friends and enjoying the food prepared for that day. And in some places, despite the existence of a church, priests with a litany go to the holy tree and perform the liturgy.