It holds a coin hidden instead of her by her maker and the one who finds it shall live in health and prosperity for the next year! But what's that magical thing made of and where does the tradition of making it come from?
As you may have heard Serbia has had quite the history with many sides taking over the reign of her territory. What that left us with today are big history books and colorful, diverse culture. From a variety of national clothing with various symbolism in embroidery to small local traditions and superstitions, no one can deny that Serbia is full of its own cultural diversity. That diversity is present even today through generations of passing down the story of česnica.
In most parts of Serbia, it is made as a plain and simple bread (in Serbian better known as "pogača"). Usually the woman of the household wakes up early on the Christmas morning, when the first church bells start to ring to bake the česnica while the rest of the household slowly gets out of bed to the delicious smell of freshly baked bread. Traditionally only wheat flour should be used, combined with fresh spring water (brought by a maiden before that) and pig lard. The simplicity of the recipe in some regions comes from the fact that for a long time it was populated by incredibly poor families that could only afford the basic ingredients. Today a lot of people use the simple recipe but with the twist, they decorate the top of the bread with some nuts or seeds, while some even add raisins inside the dough to make it sweeter. However most customs say is that yeast should be avoided when making the bread since it's not supposed to last for a long time.
The other most common way of preparing Česnica is usually found in Vojvodina (and our lovely city of Novi Sad). In the region, most people use the recipe that is somewhat similar to the way you would make baklava but drier. You have the typical thin pita crust which the woman of the house (usually a grandmother with the help of her grandchildren) makes by stretching dough over the entire dinning table to make it transparently thin. It's evident that people in the North have a sweet tooth even for the holidays since the filing is made with honey, sugar and nuts, and raisins as well.
No matter what the ingredients are, the basic idea behind česnica is always the same. It is a bread shared by the family with a coin inside. The person who makes česnica has the task to hide the coin, preferably a ducat, or a symbolic substitute which is supposed to bring good luck to the person who finds it. On Christmas morning, the family breaks the bread or cuts it to pieces and each family member hopes that the lucky coin is in their piece. Often the hosts prepare a little gift to give to the 'winner'; it used to be wool socks or knitted mittens, but more often nowadays it's money or candy. However that gift is simply a bribe so that host can buy the coin back, and keep the luck in that household and everyone merry and bright.