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Božić / Chr istmas 92 | Badnjak » Badnjak In accordance with Christian beliefs, the badnjak symbolises the firewood brought by shepherds to the Bethlehem cave where Jesus was born, and which Joseph burned to warm the VirginMary and the infant Jesus, which they proclaimedwith the sparks that flew skywards. On the other hand, ethnologists and anthropologists note that the venerating of the sacred tree dates back much further and represents an extension of ancient Slavic customs T he sacr ed oak Howmany sparks, thatmuch good fortune Many ancient specimens of oak used to be considered deities, while today the ornate branches of this sacred tree, which burn with a swarm of sparks on the hearth and heat the home during Christmas night, represent a symbol of Christmas related to the cult of the Sun, where divinity, embodied in the form of an oak, is burned in the circle of the hearth in order to be revived from the flames. Travel writers of antiquity also described the Slavs as a people who respect forests andwater, while they mentiontheoakastheirholiesttree, with a divine spirit. On holidays in the summermonths, people would gather under ancient oaks throughout Serbia, where prayers were recited and sacrifices offered, while these trees would also host assemblies, such as the one under the famous Takovski grm[Takovo ‘bush’] oak, where thedecisionwasmade to launch an uprising against the Ottoman Turks in 1815. All ancient customs of the Proto-Slavic community were fused with Christian mythology and ritual practises venerating the cult of ancestors. This represented the widespread Slavic belief that the worlds of the living and the dead intertwine. “Contactbetweenancestorsand the livingwasn’t possible at just any time,butratheronlyonspecialdays. One such day was ‘Badnje evening’ [Christmas Eve], when the ancestors prepared a festive dinner dedicated to the founders of the family and their lineage, whose spiritual sustenance in that other worldwas the joy generated by the gathering of descendants as numerous as the sparks of a burning oak or badnjak, which went on to become the central symbol of this Christian holiday. This burning of the holy oak Foto:Depositphotos/Dejan Ilić