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Serbia's Orthodox Christians gather for January's Christmas traditions

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The Orthodox Christmas Eve midnight mass at St. Sava Temple in Serbia
The Orthodox Christmas Eve midnight mass at St. Sava Temple in Serbia   -   Copyright  AP
By Theo Farrant  & AP

In Serbia's capital, Belgrade, hundreds of worshipers gathered outside Saint Sava Temple, the country's largest Orthodox church, for Christmas Eve midnight mass.

The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), similarly with the Russian Orthodox Church, celebrates Christmas Day based on the Julian calendar, which falls on January 7 of the Gregorian calendar.

Oak logs are burned outside the church during prayer

AP
The Serbian badnjak tradition has also been celebrated publicly since the early 20th centuryAP

Before the mass, many celebrated in front of the church by burning the Badnjak – an Orthodox tradition where an oak log is set on fire alongside its branches.

The tradition bears similarities to the burning of Yule in other European countries.

Everyone gathers to pray, sing and burn the traditional log which is believed to bring luck, happiness and love.

The log symbolises the tree which, according to tradition, shepherds brought to Joseph and Mary to set on fire and keep baby Jesus warm.

The tradition is observed across the majority of churches in Serbia as well as churches across Bosnia, Montenegro and North Macedonia.

COVID-19 figures continue to reach new highs

Darko Vojinovic/AP
A live broadcast of the service indicated about half of the worshippers in attendance were without masks or had them pulled downDarko Vojinovic/AP

Health measures in Serbia include mandatory face mask use indoors and and limits on gatherings, but few worshipers appeared concerned as they streamed into Saint Sava Temple.

No specific anti-virus measures were announced for Serbia's religious ceremonies despite a huge rise in infections apparently fueled by the omicron variant.

Serbia just reported more than 9,000 new cases for the past 24 hours, the highest daily number since the start of the pandemic.

Check out the video above to see the gatherers taking part in the midnight mass and Badnjak log burning tradition