Vasilica

Vasilica (name-day of holy Vasilij) denotes the orthodox new year and the traditional new year’s celebration among Macedonian and Serbian Roma. It is celebrated both by orthodox and Muslim Roma. Due to the use of the Julian calendar in orthodox countries all the way into the 20th century, Vasilica falls on the 14th of January and is therefore also called "old new year" (purano nevo berš) in distinction to the actual new year celebrated on the first of January.

Ceremony

Vasilica generally lasts for three days. Celebrations begin during the night of the 13th to the 14th of January, which is called phari rat (heavy night). Many Roma groups traditionally keep candles (momelja) burning throughout the night. Other common elements of vasilica ceremonies are cakes with coins inside, ritual congratulations, and a big festive meal consisting of roasted goose or turkey. According to Rajko Djuric, the number of turkeys and geese slaughtered must be odd. However, it cannot be stated with any certainty whether Hindu beliefs, in which odd numbers play a central role, have been retained in this ritual.

The morning following phari rat, it is the duty of the owner of the house to get up first and receive the so-called polazniko (Serbian: polaznik ["the one who goes"]) zu empfangen. In most cases, the polazniko is a friend of the family, who has the honor of being the first guest of the new year and thus bring luck to the host family. According to the ritual, he first congratulates the owner of the house, then his wife and finally all the other family members: "Neka ovel tumengje batali vasilica!" – "May your New Year be happy!"

A number of gifts symbolize wealth, fertility, health and happiness. The polazniko hands the family nuts, dried fruits and water, touches people’s heads with willow rods and places coins all over the room. After the polazniko has left the house, the close relatives come by to wish the family a happy New Near. Before lunch, the family cuts the first slices of the traditional vasilica-cake. Whoever finds a coin in their slice is held to be especially blessed in the New Year.

On the second day of the "old new year", the Roma families visit and congratulate each other, celebrating vasilica together. According to reports by the ethnologist Tihomir Gjorgjević, before 1900 these congratulatory visits were preceeded by certain rituals which showed parallels to the celebration of Holy George (Djurdjevdan / Herdelezi): all the family members had to wash in front of the house, then enter the house with an oak-twig in their hands and proclaim the following blessing:

Batalo to lačo dive, sar i šuma loki, adjokar tovel i polaza loki!
"A happy, good day. As the forest is light, so the acquaintance may be."

The third day ofvasilica does not differ in any fundamental way from the first two. There is a continuation of congratulatory visits and celebrations. Vasilica ends the third night, called tikni rat (little night).

Literature

Fennesz-Juhasz, Christiane / Halwachs, Dieter W. / Heinschink, Mozes F. (1996) Sprache und Musik der österreichischen Roma. In: GLS 46, pp. 61-110.
Gjorgjevic, Tihomir R. (1903) Die Zigeuner in Serbien. Ethnologische Forschungen, Budapest.
Halwachs, Dieter W. / Menz, Florian (eds.) (1999) Die Sprache der Roma. Perspektiven der Romani-Forschung in Österreich im interdisziplinären und internationalen Kontext, Klagenfurt.
Heinschink, Mozes F. / Hemetek, Ursula (eds.) (1994) Roma. Das unbekannte Volk. Schicksal und Kultur, Wien.
Paspati, Alexandre G. (1870 / 1973) Études sur le Tchinghianés ou Bohémiens de l´Empire Ottoman. Constantinople.
Schindegger, Florian (1997) Lebensweise von Zigeunern in Wien am Beispiel der Festtradition der Kalderaš. Wien.
Vossen, Rüdiger (1983) Zigeuner. Roma, Sinti, Gitanos, Gypsies zwischen Verfolgung und Romantisierung, Hamburg.
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