Christian church dedicates this (May 6th) day to St. George, a Christian saint who was killed in 303 AD. at the behest of Emperor Diocletian. Within Serbian people the cult of St. George is very widespread, as evidenced by the many medieval churches dedicated to him; it is called Djurdjevdan and is most important and most popular spring holiday.
With Djurdjevdan, according to popular believes, the winter half of the year ends, and summer begins. This holiday celebrates the awakening of nature, it abounds in rituals that should ensure the fertility of crops, livestock, health and happiness to people, progress in general.
Djurdjevdan is the day of the “first meal”. From Christmas to Djurdjevdan, nothing that came during the new year was eaten: young cheese, meat from young lambs, goats, calves, chickens. Everything from the new year is tasted on Djurdjevdan.
Special lamb-slaughtering ritual has to be done on Djurdjevdan. Special attention is given to the selected lamb: it is fed, released into the house, put on, and a candle wax is placed on its horn. The blood of this lamb is believed to have special healing powers; during slaughtering, special care is taken that the blood is collected in containers instead falling on the ground and is put on children faces to help them be healthy.
Common rituals and practices on Djurdjevdan used to be: bathing on the river before dawn, bathing in a water from a water-mill into which various herbs have been submerged, going to the forest to pick plants, knitting “crowns” from field herbs and the “early morning” (before the dawn, people were going out gathered in groups). During “early morning” people were singing, dancing, playing, lighting fires and roasted lambs.
Various magic rituals were also carried out to protect the villages. For example, making crosses of hazel and putting them in the fields and orchards to protect them from pellets of frozen rain that fall in showers.
Djurdjevdan was also the largest cattle feast. One of the most important ritual connected to the herds is first cow milking: women wash all milk containers in hot water, the bucket in which the milk will be put is germinated by the herbs and that milk was given to children to taste and distributed to the poor.
Nowdays so few people are following some of those traditional practices but all those who are celebrating today make roasted lamb :)
While reading this, did you think that this looks like paganism? Exactly :)
Almost all rituals that Slavic people were performing before Christianity were adopted by the Church with the goal for Christianity to be easier accepted by people. Mixing old rituals with names of the Christian saints resulted with Slava(s): celebrations of the particular saint that is household protector.
Cheers and bon appetit ;)