Friday, 3 December 2010

Happy Slava

I've written before about our dear Militza and John Nikolic, the elderfly couple who lived next door to my parents when Mum & Dad were first married nearly 50 years ago.Our family remained close friends with them from that time until their deaths - John in 1991 and Militza in 2000.

We still talk about them often and remember them both with such love and fondness. They brought so much to our lives. In fact I met my oldest friend Isobel through them...her family bought the house next door from my parents in the mid 1960's and befriended the Nikolic's too. When we moved back to the village when I was 6 and I started at the little primary school there, we were asked in class what our weekend plans were. I put up my hand and said 'We're visiting Militza & John for lunch on Saturday' at which a little indignant girl stood up and glared at me " oh no you're not! Militza & John are our friends!" So began a friendship that has lasted for almost 40 years!

Forced to leave their beloved homeland after WW2 when the communists took over (John was a diplomat and they were both from old, aristocratic dynasties....5 European kings once stayed overnight at Militza's family home...), they were given shelter - via the Red Cross - with a wonderful woman, Mrs Cross, who looked after them for the rest of her life and eventually left her house and belongings to them. John was fairly badly disabled following a major stroke that he suffered through the circumstances of his escape. He and Militza were childless by choice - they wanted to keep all their love for each other - and it would be hard to find a more devoted couple. In the 9 years that she lived after his death, the light and joy left Militza totally. She was simply never happy again. It was a comfort to us that, when she died very suddenly at 89, we knew that, somewhere, they were reunited once more.

Their Serbian Orthodox faith was very important to them both. Tomorrow, 4th December, would have been Slava Day for them...and it's a celebration that we all loved to share in.

Slava is the most important day for Serbians - essentially it's a Saint's Day and so each family celebrates on a different date according to their particular Saint. The traditions are passed from father to son and their are 3 things that must be present on the Slava table. The first is the Slava candle...this must burn all day (another must be lit from it if necessary so that no break in the flame occurs) and symbolises the light of life. The second is the traditional bread or Kolac...a tall, slightly sweet & egg enriched loaf that Militza would bake with the imprint of the Saint's icon on top

I have no photos of their actual loaf, so this is one I found on an informative website, which also gives many more details of the Slava.
She would cut the Kolac in two and then help John to make the sign of the cross onto the bread with red wine, to symbolise Christ's blood, and he then said a prayer to bless it before we each took a piece. The third thing was the Koljivo or wheat pudding. I always thought that Militza made this, but I spoke to my Mum today and she told me that, in fact, she would go to London each year to pick it up from a family member who had made it for them. It is a pudding of boiled wheatgrain, flavoured with ground walnuts and rum and formed into a dome shape in a glass dish before being crusted with sparkling sugar. I can taste it still. This is the most holy part of the meal, for everything comes from seed and it symbolises thanks to God for the bounty of the earth and the sustenance it provides.

After the ceremonial part of the meal,we would feast on crispy roast chicken served with homemade sauerkraut and the creamiest mashed potatoes imaginable. We children were allowed a little red wine, mixed with water, which made us feel so special and grown up! And after the main course there would be desserts the like of which I shall probably never taste again....a cake comprising numerous layers of wafer sandwiched with coffee cream and finished with ground almonds...little biscuits filled with apricot jam and speckled with the black dots of real vanilla...pools of vanilla custard on which floated the lightest snow-white poached meringues.....chocolate, candied fruits and little delicate cups of strong dark coffee. Laughter,celebration and candlelight.

We would eventually leave the warmth, light and joy of that small, beeswax and vanilla smelling house and make our way ,a little tipsily, home. We children would sleep very soundly the night after Slava!

I miss them both. Wonderful friends - more like our grandparents really. They embraced us and showed us an almost forgotten world of pre-war etiquette and Eastern European charm and elegance.
I feel so lucky to have had them in my life.

I'd also like to send the happiest of birthday wishes for tomorrow to the beautiful Morwenna of Bluebells & Butterflies. One of the most joyful bloggers I know! have a great day, sweetheart.

xoxo

8 comments:

  1. hi rachel and sweet alice...so Happy to see you at Farmhouse today..i can just imagine alice in her little sweater..all cozy on a frosty night. isn't Teddy just the cutest little guy...we just all came back from a trip to the woods getting oak wood for our little fireplace here in the kitchen...we are all decorated for Christmas... we feel like little mice in here...with Teddy !!!!

    enjoyed this heartwarming story....

    sending warm and cozy love to you today, my friend

    kary and teddy
    xxx

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  2. Dearest Rachel,
    You are such a gifted storyteller, I truly enjoyed every moment of your account of John, Militza and Slava Day. I am so thankful that you educated us in this Serbian celebration, it sounds wonderful. I will be thinking of John and Militza tomorrow and how they would have celebrated this very special day.
    Thank you so very much for my birthday wishes, I feel so special being mentioned on your blog! I am so very happy and blessed to know you and to call you my friend.
    Much love and hugs from one joyful blogger to another
    Morwenna
    xoxo

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  3. What a blessing older people can be in our lives!! And how wonderful that you chose to tell their story (and so beautifully)! Thank you!! Love and hugs, Sherry

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  4. Lovely story about John and Militza. You do have a way of bringing it to life. Can see you sipping diluted wine, the candlelight and wonderful food. All magical to a child. I loved learning about Slavia Day. Hugs xxoo

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  5. You and I met more or less through Militza too! Those wonderful stories you wrote me about her...I still remember the one about the candle in the hallway she kept lit for John. You made it come alive in my mind's eye and I've never forgotten it. Right now there's a sing-song in my mind going "You're coming to my house..." yay! see you soon! xoxo

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  6. So many wonderful memories. The smells, the food! I remember the lapsang souchong tea! Thanks beloved Ray xxxxxxxxxxxx

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  7. Thanks for sharing, Rachel. Maybe one day you'll put your memories of Militza and John into a book. I know you could do it beautifully.

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  8. What a beautiful story & post! It was though I stepped back in time along with you. What a blessing to have had them in your life! Thank you
    For sharing this with us!

    Blessings...
    xoxo Gert

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