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The fusion of peoples that composed Yugoslavia brought together centuries of customs and rituals. In parts of Slovakia, where many Yugoslavians had their roots, early pagan practices during the Winter Solstice gave way to other folk traditions. A dogwood berry was the first food to be eaten Christmas Day to ensure good health. Walnuts, symbolizing fertility, were obligatory holiday tree decorations, and apples were popular too. Colored candles, reminiscent of the sun's warmth, illuminated branches. Red, be- lieved a protective color acting against bad spells, wound around the boughs as ribbon. As the cycle of customs progressed, many characters who brought gifts during this time of one period ending and another beginning appeared. One was the Bo_i_Bata(Christmas Boy), a main figure in children's festivities surrounding Christmas and New Year. St. Nicholas soon replaced Bo_i_Bata. The legend across the towns of Serbia to the capital Belgrade depicted a sturdy old man with a long white beard and huge bag of gifts. St. Nicholas would visit well-behaved children on the night before his feast day riding on a white horse. Children must clean their shoes and put them in from the door in preparation for his visit. In the morning wide-eyed children would find gifts he'd left behind. The political climate changed in the area but Christmas and New Year weathered the transformation with a new character. Grandfather Frost became an acceptable figure as religion fell to political influence. The kindly old man continues to fulfill the role of charity and giving.
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