The term slava (Pl. slave) derives from the Serbian and denotes a big celebration taking place on the day of the patron saint of the family. Literarily translated the term slava means "praise" or "honour". The party represents the most important religious celebration, within the Serbian-Orthodox circle, of the year and has been taken on by Serbian-Orthodox Roma groups. Other Slavic nations do not have this custom. For the Kalderaš who came to Austria in the 1960's as migrant workers it still represents a central element in their celebration tradition.
The day of the patron saint of the family is passed on from one generation to the next. It is also part of the tradition of the non-Roma that the father is the one who bequeaths the slava to the first-born son if possible.
O sveti steva sî koģa muře dešći slava, kaj slavilas muře poposko papo; aj aśel kadà, svako del peskê śaves koģa slava.
"Saint Steva is the celebration from my father, this celebration was held already by the grandfather of my grandfather. Like this it will be also in future, everyone passes on this celebration to his son."
The Austrian Kalderaš use the following formula for passing on the tradition:
Muro Śavo, čestitiv či slava tu san akana nevo slavari, te inkres amari tradicija, te na xasares e slava!
"My son, I wish you all the best, you are the new celebrating one, maintain our celebration, don’t loose it!"
The wife always takes on the celebrations of the male head of the family. While she is not married she celebrates the slava of her father, and after having married, the slava of her husband. The difference with the Gadže however is that the Roma pass on their slave much earlier. The non-Roma traditionally pass on the slava not before the head of the family is close to death.
In the Serbian-Orthodox ecclesiastical calendar there are 12 days for when a slava may be celebrated (e.g.: Sveti Nikola on the 19th of December; Sveti Stefan on the 9th of January).
The choice of a certain date may have practical reasons and can be linked to the respective saint, or can go back to a vow that has been taken for a saint to give assistance. It is possible that one family celebrates more slave each year, in most cases two or three; the inherited slava of the father and their own one. The relationship of the Kalderaš with their slava can be solved if according to the opinion of the head of the family, the relevant saint does not bring for them good luck anymore.
"It is possible that a man always works hard and in a diligent way but continues to be unhappy in his life. Nothing works out, there is always something terrible that happens, but it is never the fault of the man. Then he takes another saint because the first one was no good for the man."
Due to the fact that the Orthodox ecclesiastical calendar does not correspond to the Roman-Catholic one, and Orthodox feast days can be workdays in Austria, the celebration of slava-festivities can be quite difficult. The celebration, however, is obligatory. Even if it is impossible for the head of the family to celebrate with friends and relatives, he at least has to celebrate the religious ceremony.
Sometimes in Vienna conditions, and shortage of space, do not allow celebrating the slava in an apartment. In this case advanced celebrations are held within the close family circle. Later on the real celebration is held in a restaurant. In many families, such an approach is accepted only as a less-than-ideal solution. Therefore, many Kalderaš-families prefer to spend the feast day in the original house of the family. They go to Serbia just for this day.
The slava of the Serbian-Orthodox Austrian Kalderaš is a three-day lasting party. On the second day of the party the slava takes place. In the morning of the first day the bread (Kalderaš: kolako / Serbian: "kolač") is consecrated either by the priest in the Serbian-Orthodox church or by the head of the family at home. The proceeding of the benediction is the same in this context. The kolako is cut on the underside and poured over with wine. When all the guests have gathered – festive clothes are a precondition – and have greeted the host by using traditional greetings (e.g. "Baxtali t’avel ći slava" / "Your ceremony be happy"), the religious ceremony is introduced by prayers. The now consecrated kolako is divided into three pieces and distributed to the present people together with cooked and sweetened corn (dživ). Kolako is a symbol for thanksgiving and for peace, dživ stands for the resurrection of Christ and for the birth of new life.
This religious ceremony is held either on all of the three days or only on the second day. In no slava may there be missed neither incense (tumuja) nor a big consecrated (momeli) candle. In contrast to the Serbian non-Roma who blow out the candle with a drop of wine in the evening, the Kalderaš burn the candle until the last guest has left the house. When the candle is blown out the slava is considered as being over.
Beside this important religious dimension the slava of the Kalderaš represents a party in order to foster social contacts within the extended family, in contrast to the religiously dominated Serbian slava. Similar to weddings (abjav /Pl.: abjava) and the special celebrations for a Kalderaš (paćiv/Pl.: paćiva) who has come from abroad the slava represents an opportunity to hold a good long celebration. Financial concerns must not be of any relevance in this context.
The small number of feast days when a slava may be celebrated results in the fact that, for example, in Vienna numerous slave are celebrated on one day. Even if the head of the house has always to be present, his sons are also obliged to participate in the slave of family friends for at least a short time. This can be quite demanding considering that, in the context of each celebration, the guests have to eat and drink extensively.