Punoletstvo, 18 Rodjendan. – Serbian

For an event that seems to be ubiquitous in Serbian society, I can find very little written about Punoletstvo, or 18 Rodjendan.

Punoletstvo translates as “adulthood”, 18 Rodjendan translates as “18th birthday”. 18 is the legal age of adulthood in Serbia, meaning you can get a drivers license, drink alcohol, vote, get married, watch porn, get drafted into the military, get a credit card, etc without your parents’ consent. Punoletstvo and 18 Rodjendan seem to be used interchangeably to mean a big bash on your 18th birthday to celebrate becoming an adult. When I Googled both “Punoletstvo YouTube” and “18 Rodjendan YouTube” I got 600 examples for each before I stopped counting.

NEW! Alex Marković authority on things Serbian, writes, “Briefly, punoletstvo celebrations arose with Socialist Yugoslavia, likely in the 1950s and 60s at the earliest. The Socialist government promulgated national policies about modernization and cultural reform on many fronts, and made a strong impact in a short period of time for the populace. Among other things, education through high school and workforce participation were advocated, and this had an impact on how people defined stages in life for generations growing up in this period. Turning 18 became a big milestone because it often marked the completion of school and transition to working (and for young men a period of military service)- all new ways to claim a kind of adult status or maturity (for people now in towns and cities, especially); this in contrast to earlier ideas that generally saw marriage as the definitive turning point to enter adulthood. People were not marrying as early in many communities, again in response to Socialist ideals, so a new celebratory marker came about for a new transition point in people’s lives. By now these customs are several decades old and so most people will see them as fairly standard (even traditional). There are also other factors, especially since the end of Socialism; not everyone can afford lavish celebrations anymore, so some families can’t/don’t put them on, whereas for others (especially in bigger cities) who are wealthy these can be quite outsized affairs that far surpass anything that would have been typical of the Socialist period.” Thanks, Alex!

This blog site (run by an older adult male) asked the question “what is Punoletstvo?” (adulthood) and got these replies:

  • Adulthood – the time you start getting police fines in your name, and your parents still pay them.
  • Something that as a kid you can’t wait to come, so that you can rightly call yourself a man and finally have an excuse for your immoral actions. Mother – Son, why did you kill yourself so much from alcohol last night? Son – mother, I am now an adult.
  • The day when the law agrees that you have become a responsible person, and your parents still give you money for snacks, books, going out, a car, college, and often an apartment. And you deserve it all just because you’re their child.
  • The day you turn 18. The day when you will be able to visit all possible porn sites without remorse (as if you know what it is), even though you have been doing it since you were fourteen. The day when you will be able to watch all those movies on TV that are not for children under 18, even though you have been doing it since you were twelve. The day when you will be free to consume alcohol, even though you have been doing it since you were fifteen. The day when you get the right to take the driving test, even though you have been driving without it for three years. The day you become independent of your parents, even though you will be dependent on their money for at least another 10 years. The day when you will spend a minimum of 500 euros for your parents to celebrate the above-mentioned freedoms with your closest company – only 300 guests.
  • An interesting reply from someone much younger “When you don’t see anything interesting in your favorite childhood series. Once upon a time, my heart skipped a beat just to mention “Mighty Rangers.” Just that beginning was enough to drive me completely insane. Today, watching those same “Mighty Rangers”, the only thing that interests me is the handsome Kimberly.”

I can’t find a ‘standard’ Punoletstvo/18 Rodjendan YouTube. Some are mostly kids, some are mostly extended family or adults watching their kids, some feature a mammoth birthday cake, some have dancing, some just sing, most have a live band or even two, all serve alcohol. Below is a rather random selection (though heavy on dancing) from 1200+ choices.

Selevac, 2013. At most punoletstvos, people stand around, socialize, and bounce to music – no folk dancing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rFgOJt3ZkY
Subotica, 2012. First dance, kolo. At 15:45, vlaško kolo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQPTLIBEuGU
Kolo, kolo, kolo. Bogava 2014. – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNMb49Wx_hA
The village of Bogava is within the municipality of Despotovac (in red) within Serbia.
Roma. Lots of čoček, easily seen around 36:10. Looks like they’re paying a DJ. Bojnik, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89bd-c7Jrj8
Bojnik (in red)
Twins, Vranje, 2022. Slow gadje Čočeks until 1:11:00, when playing a Makedonsko oro sung by Esma Redžepova brings lots of cash tips to the DJ. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmqe07sypa0
Location of the city of Vranje within Serbia
For Martin (yellow shirt at 0:13) in Vienna, 2015. At 2:00, a Romanian-style hora called Vlaško kolo.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8dKoY0j17g
Medvedja 2015 kolo dancing from 20:40 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAh17jB13sE
Medveđa (in red) within Serbia
Li’l brother joins the trubaci band. Bajnia Bašta, 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEvEbpbZe5o
Bajina Bašta (red) within Serbia
The dance is Vlaśko kolo. The little flute is the Serbian frula. 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3HSxiXmBzQ
Lots of “lazy kolo” (side-touch, side-touch), a little regular kolo, and, at 1:00:44 a Vlaško kolo. Vienna, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cl_moDlr5Q
An intimate family affair. Berlin, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5D3srZAaBfI
Romani 18 Rodjendan, 4th day! Lots of čoček from 23:17. Berlin, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4vgktwbYYg


John Uhlemann wrote: “vlaško kolo”, of course , just means Vlach dance. I suppose non-Vlachs might call it that, but in east Serbia, where the dance come from and most of the population is Vlach, it is “vlainja”. The Romanian dance (called hora mare in Bucovina, axion on much of the south, etc.), is usually done as slow, slow, quick/quick, slow for the initial sequence, rather than the 7 steps seen here. The dance was introduced to American folk dance groups with more bland, but faster music under the name “stara Vlajna” . Every 6/8 piece of dance music from east Serbia usually has this dance done to it. It used to be much faster (check out recordings on youtube by Tihomir Paunović), but when women started dancing in high heels, that did not work out too well, so the music is slower now, as per your examples, and it usually keeps progressing right rather than the original pattern of 7 steps right, 2 in place, and 3 to the left.

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