Read, Write, Run, Roam

Vidovdan: an epic day in Serbian history

The Kosovo Maiden

Today is an important day for ethnic Serbians. It’s Vidovan, or Day of Light, which is both an old Pagan holiday and the day that Prince Lazar of Serbia and other soldiers lost their lives at the Battle of Kosovo against the Ottoman Army.

It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of this battle in Serbian history. An epic poem was written about the war and subsequently memorized and recited for generations. In it, Prince Lazar is visited by a prophet in the form of a falcon and offered a choice between an earthly or a heavenly kingdom at the Battle of Kosovo. He chose a permanent kingdom in heaven, and the battle was lost.

The poem, and event, was one that that Serbians held dear through Ottoman and Hapsburg occupation–and beyond. This is not a comment about Kosovo, especially since Kosovo was predominantly ethnically and religiously Serbian at the time of the battle, but a bit of history important for anyone reading about Serbia.

A rare work-suitable image of a Rusalka

Though it is considered an important day it’s not a national holiday, so the banks will remain open and business continues as usual. However, I imagine that churches will be especially full, and tales of Rusalke will be told at children’s bedtime. According to Wikipedia, Rusalke are fairies who were once the women of Serbian soldiers slain at war. They appear in the woods on Vidovdan, mourning the death of Lazar and his men. The next night, they gather around fires and dance in the nude. (The nude part strikes me as so Serbian–of course they would bring pretty naked ladies into the picture.) If a Serbian man encounters the Rusalke, he will be offered red wine and will turn into a dragon to avenge Lazar’s death.

I’m not so sure about this tale. If you believe the poem, Lazar chose to die, so you can’t really avenge his death. But maybe that’s just me ruining the story. Furthermore, a search about Rusalke yield more information about mermaid-like spirits who drowned in water than Serbian sprits on Vidovdan. Readers, can you shed any light on this fairy tale? Though I’m skeptical about the role of Rusalke on Vidovdan, I’ll still keep Milos out of the woods. He’s a handful already; I don’t need him to turn into a dragon.


2 responses

  1. Anonymous

    When it comes to supernatural tales that surround Kosovo battle, there’s only one(as far as I know) and it involves peonies(božuri). Legend says that there were yellow peonies around when battle took place in Kosovo Field. Next year they turned blood red from all the blood shed during the battle so that people don’t forget what happened.

    So you’re right, rusalke asking for revenge of Lazar doesn’t add up with Lazar’s conscious choice of heavenly kingdom. Besides rusalke belong to pagan tradition not Christian one. However pagan traditions found a way to stay alive – slava, Christmas and Easter traditions, etc.

    You can read about Rusalke here ->

    June 28, 2011 at 12:57 pm

  2. Thanks!

    June 28, 2011 at 2:23 pm

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