A Serbian welcome

At the upcoming Serbian Days Festival, all cultural communities are welcome to come and experience Serbian culture, says Natasha Ignjatovic.

[Serbians are] known for our hospitality,” says Ignjatovic, a long-term volunteer with Vancouver’s Serbian community, who currently works as treasurer at the church where the festival will be held.

“Tourists that come to visit Serbia; they all brag about that part. They feel welcomed wherever they’ve been,” says Ignjatovic. “It’s a country that greets everyone with [an] open heart.”

Ignjatovic hopes to show visitors that open heart – and aspects of Serbian culture – at the annual Serbian Days Festival, taking place all day Sept. 1 and 2 in South Vancouver.

Friendship and folk dancing

Over the years, Serbian Days has grown, welcoming more cultures, says Ignjatovic, who has helped organize the festival for 15 of its 28 years.

Serbian days in Vancouver. | Photo courtesy of Natasha Ignjatovic

“Our target has been to become more open to other spectators who show the interest to come and visit,” says Ignjatovic. “At the beginning, it was a cultural gathering of our community, but we wanted to spread that out. I called around [to] every other cultural group I knew from their festivals, Greek and Russian, Polish and Mexican, and I invited them to come and attend our festival. We went around door to door.”

Visitors and Serbians alike are all welcome to participate in the festival.

Serbia’s traditional kolo circle dance, added in 2017 to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, is a collective performance involving every member of the community.

“It’s for everyone; we all dance in a big circle,” says Ignjatovic.

The festival showcases different types of kolo from Serbia’s five regions.

“We have a folk dance group, Vuk Karadzic Vankuver, that gathers about 150 kids and youth and about 50 adults,” explains Ignjatovic. “The kids practise all different dances, in traditional costumes from back home. Some of [the costumes] are very authentic, and original from a hundred years ago. Most of the clothing was made from natural materials, heavy wool and lots of colourful embroidery, with intricate patterns and flowers. Everything was handmade back then.”

Between dances, visitors can enjoy other elements of Serbian culture.

“We have Serbian food, which consists of lots of meat. There is a traditional lamb roast. Roasted lamb and pork. What we are most known for is cevapi, which is grilled meat but looks more like little sausages. We have lots of desserts. It’s very traditional that in every family, they bake a lot – pastries, cakes made of walnuts, chocolate, custard. And sweet,” she adds, laughing.

Dance is not the only activity featured at Serbian Days, as there is a soccer tournament on both days, with players possibly coming from the FC Serbia United teams and the Serbia White Eagles Soccer Club. Chess and boccé will also be played at the festival.

A Canadian adventure

Serbian Days is the biggest festival of the Serbian community in Vancouver, but there are others. The St. Sava Serbian Orthodox church, at which the festival will be held, has celebrations throughout the year, including a goulash contest on Pentecost Sunday in May. Singers perform at the end of June to celebrate St. Vitus’ Day and the fall of Serbian martyrs at the 14th century Battle of Kosovo.

Natasha Ignjatovic (right) with her children in traditional Serbian costumes. | Photo courtesy of Natasha Ignjatovic

Ignjatovic and her husband came to Canada in 1993 as a young couple from Serbia, then in the process of splitting away from former Yugoslavia.

“We were looking for adventure. But we were also looking for a country that gave us opportunity,” says Ignjatovic. “We wanted to go somewhere where we could find our life.”

Ignjatovic keeps up Serbian traditions.

“I used to dance and I still dance,” she says. “I’m part of the veterans group. There’s 40 members, and we practise two or three times a week. We perform at festivals. I’ll be performing on Saturday.”

For more information, please visit www.serbianday.com.