Badnji dan is the last day of the Christmas fast but also the time when the badnjak is brought into Orthodox homes, from whence it gets its name and which the Orthodox Church gave a special meaning because the name badnjak is connected with the word vigil, being that on that day a vigil was kept awaiting the birth of the Savior. The faithful receive blessed badnjaks which they take into their homes. Families are gathered in their homes around the hay and leaves as in Christ’s cradle in the straw of the cave of Bethlehem. The night of joy approaches and the shepherds and wise men. This feast day of family joy is celebrated in our parishes.
According to tradition, the badnjak burns on the eve of the feast until Christmas, when the birth of Christ is announced. The badnjak is, by rule, is a young oak tree and represents the symbol of the tree which, as it is said in tradition, the shepherds brought to Joseph and Mary to kindle the fire and warm the cave in which Jesus Christ was born. In Orthodox homes Badnje Vece – Christmas Eve – is a family feast when the household is gathered around the lenten table.
adapted from an article by Deacon Neven Marinkovic