On the evening of January 6, Christmas Eve for Orthodox Serbs, an old Serbian custom is carried out by Toronto’s Serbian community. The “badnjak” (an oak tree that’s the equivalent of the Yule log) is decorated with fruits, nuts and ribbons and carried into each of the Serbian Orthodox churches in the city. The branches are blessed by the priests and given to each parishioner to take home, a symbol of bringing Christ into their lives. Events such as this, along with other customs and religious observances that take place at the city’s parishes, exemplify the spiritual and cultural presence of Toronto’s 75,000-member Serbian community.
Toronto’s Serbs trace their roots to Serbia and all regions of the former Yugoslavia. Approximately 200 Serbs settled in the Toronto area around 1912. Mostly men, these early settlers worked in Ontario’s factories, industries, mines, farms, and lumber towns. These newcomers established several businesses in Toronto’s East End, including the Belgrade Coffee House on King Street East, a popular gathering place. In 1916, the newcomers formed their first organization, the Serbian National Shield Society of Canada, an affiliate of the New York–based organization that was established for the purposes of providing humanitarian assistance during the First World War. A second wave of Serbian settlers arrived between 1924 and 1928. This group immediately set about organizing a performing arts group that staged concerts. The Circle of Serbian Sisters, Queen Alexandra, founded in 1934, hosted cultural events, raised money to build a church, and assisted in the Allied war effort.
Toronto’s first Serbian Orthodox Church parish was formed in 1948, and the first church, St. Sava, named after the patron saint of the Serbian people, was built in 1953 at the corner of River and Gerrard streets. The second Serbian Orthodox parish, St. Michael the Archangel, purchased a church on Delaware Avenue in 1965. The parishes became the focus of religious and cultural activities in the community.
Following the Second World War, students, professionals, political refugees, labourers, and academics were among those who settled in the city. The late 1960s and early 1970s brought a wave of highly skilled Serbs to the city. Thousands more Serbs have made Toronto their new home following the civil war and break-up of the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Among these recent immigrants were many professionals, including computer programmers, engineers, actors, writers, and artists.
Over the years, a number of prominent members of the community have contributed to the city’s cultural and sports scenes. In the arts, Dr. Luigi Von Kunits (1860 to 1931), a composer, violist, and conductor, laid the foundations for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and started the Canadian Music Journal. Momo Markovich was an artist for the Ontario Government whose murals depict many of the province’s construction and works sites in the 1960s. Composer and music professor Marinko Michael Pepa has helped promote Canadian musicians, and Dusan Petricic is a well-known illustrator and artist whose works have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Toronto Star newspapers. Hockey star Peter Zezel, and former Canadian Football League players Srecko and Ljubo Zizakovic, and Mike Jovanovic have all made a contribution to Canadian sports.
Serbs of the Orthodox faith celebrate all the traditional holidays and feasts of the Eastern Orthodox Church according to the Julian Calendar.
ALL SOULS’ DAY (PARASTOS AND POMEN) is the universal commemoration of the souls of the deceased. It is customary to visit the graves of deceased family and friends during this religious observance. Individual memorial services are also held throughout the year.
BADNJE VECE (CHRISTMAS EVE), January 6, Serbians celebrate the old custom of bringing in the badnjak, or yule log. Family members place the badnjak in the fireplace for good fortune in the coming year. Straw is scattered on the floor of the house as a reminder of Christ’s birth in a manger.
BOZIC (CHRISTMAS) on January 7th is celebrated with a midnight matins, followed by a morning liturgy. The Christmas dinner includes roast pork, cabbage rolls, hot tea, and plum brandy, called Shumadiski Caj. The cesnica (bread cake), containing a silver coin wrapped in tinfoil, is broken among family members. It is believed the recipient of the coin will receive good fortune in the coming year.
DICESAN DAY, held in the summer in Milton and Binbrook, Ontario, is commemorated with an outdoor church service and a picnic.
ST. SAVA DAY is celebrated on January 27th in memory of the Serbian prince who entered monastic life to serve God and his people. As the first Serbian Archbishop, he was instrumental in creating an independent, autocephalic Orthodox Church in the Kingdom of Serbia in 1219. Along with his father, King Stephen Nemanya, he built numerous churches, promoted education, and laid the foundation for the Serbian Orthodox Church. Serbians, particularly children, honour his birthdate with an evening of song, dance, and poetry recitals at their local church hall. St. Sava is the patron saint of the Serbian Nation.
THE FEAST OF ST. LAZARUS (VIDOVDAN) is celebrated on June 28th in memory of the great martyr and prince of Serbia. In 1389, at the Battle of Kosovo, Tsar Lazar led the outnumbered Serbian army against the Turks but lost. Serbia was placed under 500 years of Ottoman Turkish rule. Despite this, Serbs never lost their identity or their religion. A two-day observance of the battle was first held in Canada in 1945. On the closest weekend to the date, a Saturday night dance is followed by a church liturgy and memorial service on the next day. The afternoon picnics attract some 15,000 Serbs from across North America for a cultural program, outdoor dancing, and singing. The event is held annually with celebrations in both Niagara Falls and Binbrook, Ontario.
DAY OF REMEMBRANCE. On the closest Sunday to July 17th, remembrance services are held at local churches for General Draza Mihailovich, the Serbian national hero who organized the first guerrilla movement of Serbian nationalists resisting Nazi and Communist takeover attempts during the Second World War. After the war, Mihailovich was captured by the Communists and executed. Traditional picnics are also held at two picnic grounds owned by Serbian organizations in southern Ontario.
REMEMBRANCE FOR KING PETER II. On the first Sunday nearest September 6, Serbs remember the birthday of the exiled King Peter II of Yugoslavia, who died in 1970.
REMEMBRANCE FOR KING ALEXANDER I. On October 9, a memorial service is held to commemorate the assassination of King Peter II’s father, King Alexander I, who was killed in Marseilles where he was to propose a mutual defence treaty against Hitler’s forces.
PATRON SAINT DAY (KRSNA SLAVA) is one of the holiest days of the year for any Serbian family. The Krsna Slava is passed down from father to son and commemorates the day the family’s ancestors were baptized into Christianity. Each Serbian home has an icon of their family patron saint. Slavas are celebrated with church services and a festive household celebration, where relatives and friends gather for a special meal that includes breaking the traditional bread (Slavski Kolac) and serving cooked wheat (zito). Serbian Orthodox churches also celebrate their respective patron saint’s day.
SERBIAN MOTHER’S DAY FATHER’S DAY are celebrated on the three last Sundays before Christmas. The tradition of gift giving is practised during this time, symbolic of Jesus Christ’s gift to humankind.
SERBIAN TELEVISION TORONTO, Informative & Entertaining TV program, since 2000, Rogers TV, Channels 10, 63, 84, (Tel. 416-503-3300, www.stvt.ca, 3265 Wharton Way, Unit 17, Mississauga). Alternate Saturdays, 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Alternate Tuesdays, 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Producer: Balgoja Ristic.
BRATSTVO (FRATERNITY), (Tel. 416-663-3409, 1 Secroft Cres). A monthly publication established in 1954. Editor: Milenko Durovic.
GLAS KANADSKIH SRBA (VOICE OF CANADIAN SERBS), (Tel. 416-496-7881, 1900 Sheppard Ave. E., P.O. Box 303). Established in 1934; published monthly and sponsored by the Serbian National Shield Society of Canada. Editor: Bora Dragasevic.
ISTOCNIK, 7470 McNiven Rd., Milton). The official quarterly publication of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Canada.
KANADSKI SRBOBRAN (CANADIAN SRBOBRAN), (Tel. 905-549-4079, 335 Britannia Ave., Hamilton). Established in 1951; a bi-weekly newspaper sponsored by the Serbian League of Canada.
NEZAVISNE NOVINE, (Tel. 416-466-0888, www.nezavisnenovine.com, 429 Danforth Ave., Suite 357). A bi-weekly newspaper.
CHIN 100.7 FM, (Tel. 416-531-9991, 622 College St). Programs include:
RADIO SUMADIJA, (Tel. 416-496-7881), Saturday, 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Director: Boro Dragasevic.
RAVNA GORA, (Tel. 416-663-3409), Sunday, 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Program Director: Milenko Djurovic.
SUMADIJA, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Director: Boro Dragasevic.
VOJVODINA CABARET BLAGOVESNIK, Saturday, 10:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. A religious program of the Canadian Serbian Diocese.
ZVUCI RODNOG KRAJA, Sunday, 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Program Director: Mike Milicevic.
ASSOCIATION OF POETS AND WRITERS “DESANKA MAKSIMOVIC,” (Tel. 416-767-5779, 93 Lavinia Ave). President: Katerina Kostic.
SRPSKI KORENI, Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. WTOR 770 AM, (Tel. (716) 754-9514). Program Editor: Mike Milicevic.
ASSOCIATION OF SERBIAN WOMEN, The Hudson’s Bay Centre, (P.O. Box 75008, 20 Bloor St. E).
CANADIAN SERBIAN CLUB OF TORONTO, (Tel. 416-496-7881, 1900 Sheppard Ave. E., P.O. Box 303). Established in 1970 to enhance the Serbian contribution to the Canadian mosaic. Director: Bora Dragasevic. President: Milan Markovich.
CANADIAN SERBIAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE, (Tel. 416-663-3409, 1 Secroft Cres). Established in 1960 as an umbrella organization for several other Serbian organizations. Contact: Milenko Durovic.
CANADIAN-YUGOSLAV RADIO AND TV CLUB (KOLO), (Tel. 416-537-7167, 2182 Dundas St. W). A Serbian cultural association established in 1972 to maintain and enhance Serbian traditions in Canadian society.
MONTENEGRIAN CULTURAL SOCIETY “VLADIKA DANILO.” (Tel. 416-534-4365), President: Rado Aleksic.
SERBIAN ASSOCIATION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, (Tel. 416-443-0963). Sponsors lectures and dances.
SERBIAN CENTRE “ST. SAVA,” (Tel. 905-272-5944, 2520 Dixie Rd., Mississauga).
SERBIAN LEAGUE OF CANADA (NATIONAL ORGANIZATION), (335 Britannia Ave., Hamilton). A patriotic organization; the Toronto chapter is named Gavrilo Princip. National President: Cedomir Asanin.
SERBIAN HERITAGE ACADEMY, (Tel. 416-588-8550, 2381 Dundas St. W).
SERBIAN NATIONAL FEDERATION (NORTH AMERICAN ORGANIZATION), (203 River St). Originally established in 1901 to provide Serbian immigrants with moral and financial support. The Toronto chapter, Plavi Jadran, was established in 1927.
SERBIAN NATIONAL SHIELD SOCIETY OF CANADA, (1900 Sheppard Ave. E., P.O. Box 303). A patriotic organization. The Toronto chapter, Karadjordie, was established in 1916. National President: Bora Dragasevic.
ERINDALE COLLEGE SERBIAN ASSOCIATION (ECSA), (3359 Mississauga Rd., Mississauga).
MOVEMENT OF SERBIAN CHETNIKS “RAVNA GORA” IN THE FREE WORLD, (203 River St). A war veteran’s association, established in 1953 to aid veterans from the Second World War. Toronto President: Milorad Uzelac.
SERBIAN CENTRE FOR NEWCOMERS IN ONTARIO, (Tel. 416-588-8550, 2381 Dundas St. W). Provides settlement and orientation services in English and Serbian language to newcomers to Ontario.
SERBIAN YOUTH LEAGUE, (Tel. 647-866-5688, www.serbianyouthleague.org), Largest organization for Serbian students and youth in Canada, established in 2008.