It was due to the census of population of Palestine that the Most Holy Virgin Mary and the Righteous Joseph had found themselves in Bethlehem nine months after Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Since many others came to the town for that same reason it became very difficult to find lodgings for the overnight stay.
There was no room to stay either at inns or in private houses. They were thus forced to spend the night in a cave which served as a stable to shepherds. It happened that Lord Jesus Christ was laid in a manger immediately upon His birth, and that he was to be greeted initially by simple shepherds and some wise men, astrologers from the East who arrived in Bethlehem following celestial signs of the great event.
Christmas Eve marks the final stages of the Christmas fast and it is the culmination of our anticipation of the arrival of the Savior, of the of birth of the Son of God in a human body. It is in the atmosphere of jovial silence that the Church prepares to greet the Emmanuel. The faithful receive consecrated yule logs, which they then bring to their homes. Families gather in their homes over straw and leaves representing Christ’s manger in the Bethlehem cave. The night of joy, of shepherds and the wise men lies ahead.
The long expected event of Messiah’s birth is drawing near – birth of Emmanuel, incarnation of the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God. He, the Lord of the world, and the King of all kings, is to be born in a human body to accomplish the act of salvation of mankind which could not be carried out by His servants.
Yule log day, one day ahead of Christmas, derives its name from the Eve of the Yule log and the ensuing night is not to be slept through. Everyone should, rather, stay awake and keep vigil. Imperial hours are celebrated on the eve of the Feast of Christ’s Birth. Each of the four hours is integrated into a single service.
The Yule Log
Oak or cerris tree log, which the master (head) of the household brings to his home on Yule Log Day (Christmas Eve Day) and eventually burns on the hearth at the occasion of the Eve of the Yule Log (Christmas Eve). Yule Log flames transfigure the Old Testament and the pagan religion of our ancestors into the light of the New Testament. Christian Yule Log tradition derives from that wonderful Bethlehem night when shepherds, guarding their flocks close to the cave where Christ was to be born, made fires to keep warm. After the announcement made by an angel of the Lord concerning Christ’s birth they cut some logs and branches so that they could light a fire at the side of the Newborn and His Mother.
The Christmas Cake
Christmas cake or Chesnytsa is also part of Serbian traditional customs for Christmas. This cake is really a type of a flat round bread which is usually made on Christmas Day early in the morning. A coin is inserted into the dough together with some other items symbolizing various types of accomplishments. Tradition says that once the cake is broken and shared, persons finding these items in their portions of the cake would achieve particular types of success in their lives. Christmas cake sometimes takes form of a corn bread or a pie.
Fast And Abstinence
Fast or abstinence is a specific period of time during which the faithful, being advised so by the Church, double their prayers and abstain from eating foods containing animal fats. Lord Jesus Christ Himself has said when referring to demons: “This kind is banished by fasting and prayer”. Holy Fathers say that fasting and prayer are two spiritual wings, which serve to carry us to the Lord. The Church has prescribed following fasts: Christmas fast, lasting from 28/15. November to the Christmas Day (7. January / 25. December). The Great Lent or the Easter Fast lasts seven weeks. Apostle’s fast starts on the Sunday of All Saints and lasts until the Feast of the Holy Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Its length depends on the date of Easter celebrations in the particular year. If it happens that Easter is celebrated earlier in the year, than this fast is longer, and vice-versa. Fast preceding the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos starts 14/1. August and brakes on the Feast day itself. Should the Feasts of Saint Peter and Staint Paul, and the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos fall on a Wednesday or a Friday than the fast preceding the Feasts is continued to cover the Feast days themselves. Christmas Day is never a fasting day even if it should fall on a Wednesday or a Friday.
In addition to seasonal fasts lasting several days or more, there are also those that last only one day: every Wednesday and Friday of the year except Compact Weeks, Holy Cross Day being the day before the Feast of Epiphany (18/5. January), Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (11. September / 29. august), Elevation of the Precious Cross (27. September).
It should be emphasized that marriage ceremonies are not allowed on fasting days.
Compact Weeks are fast free and they occur: from Christmas Day until the Day of the Holy Cross (18. January); week after Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee; week following Meat-Fare Sunday; week after Pascha (Bright Week); week after Pentecost.