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Meshing of traditions gives Bosnian couple 2 Christmases

Bosnian immigrants Ira (left) and Dalibor Bencun have meshed their country’s Christmas traditions with those of the United States, and because of that celebrate two Christmases.
Bosnian immigrants Ira (left) and Dalibor Bencun have meshed their country’s Christmas traditions with those of the United States, and because of that celebrate two Christmases. Photo by Jessica Williams.

A Bosnian family living in Huntington has meshed its own holiday traditions from home with those of America, a compromise that includes the celebration of two Christmases.

Ira Bencun moved to Huntington in December 2004 after meeting her future husband, Dalibor. They are from the same town, Kakanj in central Bosnia, but she says they didn't meet until he was home visiting his family after he had already moved to America in the late 1990s.

In January 2005, the couple married in America; in December 2005, their son Stribor was born here.

Both Ira and Dalibor Bencun work in Huntington.

"I don't know if there is a big, huge difference," Ira Bencun says of the two countries' Christmas traditions. "The biggest difference that I see between here and there is presents. It's all about presents here.

"People are so stressed because they need to find not one, but a bunch of presents. They're just running around like crazy and it's like, why are they doing that to themselves?"

She says she would receive presents back home, but the holiday is more about being together with family. The gifts they would receive, she explains, would be more of items they needed, not wanted. And no one made Christmas lists.

"To me, it was never a big deal, getting presents, it was just having fun and staying up late," Bencun recalls.

A holiday custom in Bosnia leading up to Christmas begins the first week of December when families plant wheat in a bowl and watch its progress throughout the month. Legend says if the wheat grows well, the next year will be a good one for the grower, Bencun explains. Since she moved to Huntington, she says her Bosfamily is no longer growing wheat and that's one of the things she misses.

In Bosnia, the meal on Christmas Eve is a light family dinner, consisting of no meat or sweets, but fish, wine and salads. Then they'd attend midnight Mass and when they returned home, "that was the most exciting part for me," Bencun says, "because then I was allowed to have cookies and candies and all that," she explains, laughing.

The night's festivities were capped off with a family breakfast. The items in the meals were all made from scratch, she says, not store-bought. She attributes that to the slower pace of life in Bosnia as opposed to America.

Christmas in Bosnia is first about close family and then about friends, Bencun says.

They also find a way to combine religious differences in order to celebrate the holidays in Huntington.

Ira Bencun is Catholic and her husband Dalibor is Orthodox. The Orthodox use the old calendar so their Christmas is two weeks after Dec. 25, on Jan. 7.

Because of this calendar difference, the Bencuns celebrate Christmas twice a year, and she says her son "is not complaining."

"That is the biggest difference between the Catholics and the Orthodox," Bencun explains. "Other than that, it is all about family, about getting together, good food, good friends and all that."

The Orthodox also don't have a Christmas tree, but rather oak branches in the house, but the Bencuns have a tree.

They are trying to let their son see both sides of his culture and celebrate the holidays with both Bosnian and American ways, Bencun says.

They are also trying to fast on Christmas Eve as they would in Bosnia, she adds.

While Bosnian tradition is to decorate the tree on Christmas Eve, the couple has picked up the American tradition of setting up the tree in advance of the holiday.

The story of Santa Claus and his reindeer is about the same in Bosnia, Bencun explains. She says she never left Santa cookies and milk on Christmas Eve, but they started to do so with their son.

"That's something new that we are doing and I kind of like that," she says. "It's kind of fun, especially when I see how excited he is in the morning (when the milk and cookies are gone.)"