Bosnia and Herzegovina

Traditions and customs of Bosnia and Herzegovina

What traditions and customs are there in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Details of the customs and traditions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country in the Balkan region.


Food in daily life

Bosnian food has been influenced by both Turkish and Eastern European cuisine. Grilled meat is popular, as are cabbage-based dishes. Bosanski Ionac is a stew of cabbage and meat. Cevapcicici are lamb sausages that are often eaten with a flatbread called somun.

Cakes, both sweet and savory, are common; burek and pida (layered cheese or meat pies), zeljanica (spinach pie), and sirnica (cheese pie) are served as main courses. Baklava, a Turkish pastry made from filo pastry with walnuts and honey, is a very popular dessert, as is an apple pie called tufahije.

Kefir, a thin yogurt drink, is popular, as is Turkish coffee and a kind of tea called salep. Homemade brandy, called rakija, is a very popular alcoholic beverage. Alcohol consumption has decreased since the rise of Muslim influence, and drinking has been banned in certain areas of the country.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

For Bosnian Muslims, the end of Ramadan (a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset) is celebrated with a large family meal and Turkish -style sweets and cakes. Both Catholics and Eastern Orthodox celebrate Easter with special breads and elaborate eggs. Christmas is an occasion for special family meals among the Christian population.


Bosniaks are known as a friendly and hospitable people. In Muslim houses, it is traditional to take off your shoes and put on a pair of slippers. Kisses are a common form of greeting for both men and women. Three kisses on alternate cheeks are common.

Visiting is a common pastime. When you enter a house as a guest, you often bring a small gift. Hosts are expected to serve a meal or refreshment.


Religious beliefs

40 percent of the population is Muslim, 31 percent Eastern Orthodox, 15 percent Roman Catholic, and 4 percent Protestant; 10 percent of the population follows other religions. The majority of the population is not particularly observant, but religion is an important aspect of national identity. (Islam is associated with the Bosnians, the Eastern Orthodox with the Serbs, and Catholicism with the Croats.)

Icons, which are images depicting Christ, angels, saints, and other holy figures, hold an important place in Orthodox practice and are seen as a connection between the earthly and spiritual realms.

Religious practitioners

The central religious figures of Islam are called muezzins, scholars of the Koran who call the faithful to prayer. The Koran is seen as the highest authority in the religion. In the Eastern Orthodox religion, the priests are the main religious authorities; they are allowed to marry. The Eastern Orthodox religion does not recognize the authority of the Pope, but follows a group of patriarchs who have equal status.

Rituals and Holy Places

Mosques are Muslim places of worship. It is customary to remove your shoes before entering. The prayer room has no benches or seats; instead, worshipers kneel on prayer rugs. After Ramadan, people exchange small gifts, visit friends and have a big family meal.

Eastern Orthodox religious ceremonies are held in elaborate and beautifully designed churches, many of which date back hundreds of years. Each family has a patron saint who is honored once a year in a grand celebration called Krsna Slava. A candle is lit in honor of the saint and special foods are eaten.

Christmas (which is celebrated on January 6 and 7 in the Orthodox Church) is an important holiday. Christmas Eve, called Badnje Vece, is celebrated with a huge bonfire in the cemetery and the singing of hymns. In addition to religious services, Easter is celebrated with dying eggs and traditional kolo dances.

Death and the afterlife

Christians and Muslims mourn the death of a loved one by dressing in black and visiting the family of the deceased.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, funerals are large and elaborate occasions. In the cemetery, in honor of the deceased, a plate of salads and roasted meats is presented, which is repeated one year after death, at which time the tombstone is placed in the ground. Headstones often bear photographs and inscriptions.

Secular celebrations

The main secular holidays are: New Year, January 1; Republic Day, January 9 (November 25 in the Federation); Independence Day, March 1; Army Day, April 15; Labor Day, May 1; and Victory Day, May 4. At the end of August the Sarajevo Film Festival is held annually and in February and March the Winter Festival, which is celebrated with theatrical and musical performances.

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

Under communism, artists who glorified the state received government funding; most other expressions were censored. Artists have since been given more creative freedom, although the religious establishment has used its political power to influence the art that is produced. There is virtually no money from public or private sources to support the arts.


The national literary tradition dates back to epic tales that were set to music and passed down orally from one generation to another. Although not as prevalent today, this art form was still widely practiced as recently as the 1950s. Contemporary literature deals with history and identity politics.

The most famous Bosnian writer is Ivo Andric, a Serbian Catholic who grew up in Bosnia and won the Nobel Prize in 1961 for the historical novel Bridge on the Drina. Mesa Selimovic, another novelist, was raised Muslim but proclaimed himself a Serbian writer.

Much of the literature produced in recent years has consisted of non-fictional accounts of the war. One of these works is that of Zlata Filipovic, a twelve-year-old girl whose diary describes daily life in besieged Sarajevo.

Graphic arts

Sarajevo and Mostar are well known for the wool rugs and rugs that their artisans produce. The Turkish influence is evident in the bright colors and geometric designs. Calligraphy and metalwork also reflect traditional Islamic styles.

Silk embroidery is a traditional art of women. Contemporary graphic artists have used bullets, shrapnel, broken glass, ash, and other debris to make powerful statements.

Film director Emir Kusturica, a Bosnian of Muslim origin, received international acclaim for his 1984 film When Father Went Away on Business, which was nominated for an Oscar in the United States. Since the civil war, Kusturica’s work has been condemned by Muslim authorities, and he has moved to Serbia.

Performing arts

Music in urban areas has strong echoes of Turkish tradition. The singing is accompanied by the saz, a kind of lute. In rural areas, the music draws more from Slavic influences. Ravne pesme is a “flat song” with little variation; ganga is a polyphonic song that sounds loud.

The main instruments are the shargija (similar to the saz), the diple (a boneless bagpipe), and a wooden flute. Epic poems are performed to the accompaniment of a single-string violin called a gusle.

Sevdalinka songs (from the Turkish word for love) are sentimental melodies that are usually sung by young women. They are performed throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and have a strong cultural resonance throughout the country.

There is a variety of folk dances. Some are similar to the Serbian and Croatian forms. The nijemo kolo is a circle dance performed on foot rather than to music. There are also different line dances, some performed by men and some by women. Rock’n’roll and popular dance are popular and in some cases are replacing more traditional forms.

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