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Eating Christmas: Reimagining old traditions for the holidays

This holiday season, This Show is bringing you true stories about — what else — food. Local educator Nemanja Demic shared a story of old traditions — including pig on a spit.

In 2001, when I was at the ripe age of 6, my family and I arrived in the United States as refugees from Serbia. It was a challenging transition, to say the least, having left behind the familiar for the unknown, but near the end, the familiarity of our home country had dissipated as war had ended lives, destroyed homes, and left us to find a new way of existence. As time went by, we found solace in our traditions, holding tightly to the customs that connected us to our roots.

One of the most cherished traditions was celebrating Božić, or Christmas, on Jan. 7, because my family, like most Serbs, was Eastern Orthodox and followed the Julian calendar. Our festive centerpiece was a ritual that brought us together in a way nothing else could — the roasting of a pig in the backyard.

I know, I know, probably not what you were expecting me to say — and definitely not what our neighbors were expecting us to do.

In the early years, though, it was truly a family affair. We would gather around the makeshift pit of corrugated steel and coal, everyone playing a role in turning the pig slowly over the open flame. 

There was a warmth in the flames that mirrored the bond we shared, holding onto each other and our cherished tradition.

As time unfurled, so did the unity of our family. Siblings ventured into the world to find their place, and their people, and distance, among other things, strained the ties that once bound us. 

However, the Christmas pig roast became the annual glue that held us together. It evolved, as we did, though. The makeshift pit was replaced with a proper, stainless steel, electric spit — $149.99 at Home Depot, if you’re in the market — it became a symbol of our adaptation to this new world. 

Yet, as the spit upgraded, our family fractured even further. Now, rather than siblings venturing into the world, it was our mother. No longer did we sit around together, sharing stories and laughter as the pig slowly turned. Now, it was just Tata, our father, standing alone, cigarette in hand, watching the pig spin, lost in the memories of a time when our family was a circle of faces, not just his own.

Over the years, our Christmas traditions began to look different. The pig disappeared, the spit grew dusty from neglect, and siblings turned against each other. Each Christmas became a question mark, a mystery waiting to unfold. Despite the uncertainty, one thing remained clear — there would be food and, hopefully, a semblance of the good times we once shared.

As the holiday season approaches this year, I can't help but wonder if we will revive the old traditions, or if new ones will emerge. The pig may be gone, and the spit may be neglected, but the essence of family and the hope for togetherness still linger in the air. 

Regardless of what this Christmas will bring, I know that the spirit of our Serbian roots and the love we share will find a way to shine through the fractures in our family, reminding us of the ties that once held us close, because, well, because Božić.

Božić pomaže nam da cenimo ljubav u našim životima koju često uzimamo zdravo za gotovo. Neka pravi smisao praznične sezone ispuni vaše srce vase srce i dom.

Which means: May the true meaning of the holiday season fill your heart and your home. 

Thank you. 

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