Selco’s Stories from an SHTF Christmas

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Selco interviewed by Daisy Luther

Author of The Dark Secrets of SHTF Survival and the online course SHTF Survival Boot Camp

(Dec. 2017) Have you ever thought about what an SHTF Christmas would be like after an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it event? I’m not talking about a minor issue that just affects a few people, but a full-on disaster that changes everything.

Today, we have a first-hand look at what a post-collapse holiday is really like. I interviewed my friend Selco and his answers are really food for thought.  I have learned more about long-term survival from Selco than probably anybody else and have based a lot of my own plans on things I’ve learned from him. For most of us who write about preparedness, it’s research and theory. For Selco, it’s real life.

This interview is in his own words.

I read over the answers to his questions at least a dozen times and thought about how fortunate we are. Even our most difficult times here, in our society, would have been the height of luxury during the war in Bosnia.

But will we always be this lucky?

First, give us a little bit of background. What was going on? Please describe the circumstances in Bosnia during this time.

War in the Balkan region (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia…) started during the 1991 and went on until 2000 (if you include war at Kosovo and NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999), but historians mainly narrow it to a period of 1991-1995 if you do not count Kosovo war and NATO bombing. In some literature, you’ll find the name “Yugoslav Wars“ which is same (all the above-mentioned Balkan countries used to be states in the Federation of Yugoslavia (Jugoslavija or roughly translated to English it is “country of south Slavs“).

…Yugoslavia (as a socialistic-communist country) founded after WW2 in 1945, and stop to exist in 1991 with the start of the wars. Shortly prior the war socialistic system (communistic) fell apart as a part of bigger events (fall of Soviet Union, fall of Berlin wall…) and democracy came, together with democracy, rivalry between states that wanted to stay in the Yugoslavian union and states who wanted independence raised sharply, that resulted in riots and small and isolated fights, leading to full use of Yugoslavian army (JNA) which was 4th largest military force in Europe in that time.

Wars had all features: Independence fights, aggression between states, civil war, genocide, re-alignments, or switching of allegiances as the operational situational changed, backing up from foreign forces (Such as US and NATO)… through periods of it  you could say that it was an ethnic war or even religious in parts, but in the essence it was war for territory and resources between factions who were in power, based on personal gain of wealth and influence only.

I went as a civilian and later as a soldier through the whole period of wars, I was in different regions during that period. Harder period of those wars (because of numerous reasons) happened in Bosnia, and one of the main “feature“ of that period were “sieges“ of a couple of cities that lasted from few months to a couple of years.

Some of those sieges were complete, in terms that everything normal stop to exist in city- electricity, water, police, medical services and everything else that makes life normal, every normal service. Death from sniper or shelling was an everyday thing, but also death from gangs because law stop to exist, or death from malnutrition, lack of medicines or simply lack of proper hygiene.

I found myself in one of those sieged cities. I lived like that for a year and I survived.

Every day, for almost a year, for me was a constant fight for survival, I was constantly either trying to defend myself or to look for resources, for usable water, food or simply firewood. We scavenged through the destroyed city for usable items because everything was falling apart and we have to “reinvent“ things in order to survive, like the best way to stay warm, to stay clean and safe or simply to make home medicine for diarrhea or high blood pressure.

Can you tell us the usual Christmas traditions in Bosnia BEFORE this all happened?

As said, I grew up in Yugoslavia, which was a socialistic and communistic country. One of the thing in that country and system was that religion was not forbidden, but it was strongly, let’s say “advised“ that religion is way down in the list of life priorities.

On the other side, it was strongly “advised“ that we put aside our differences (we had many different ethnic groups in Yugoslavia, and a couple of main religions) in order to build one “ethnicity“ – Yugoslavian. As a result of that, all different religions kinda know each other very well, and people from different religions celebrated more or less or know all religions.

Christmas for most of the folks was very much connected to the New year holiday (again something that is connected to the official socialistic system) and it was just like everywhere in the world I guess, a holiday of presents and gathering of family. For example, going on midnight mass was a matter of being together with family and friends, and meeting each other-not so much matter of religion because there were not too many “real“ religious people).

I was a teenager more or less, but my memories of that holiday prior to the war are peace, good food, family gathering and presents, and of course Santa.  It was a huge and “mandatory“ thing that kids gonna get big presents then.

I’m sure that then, everything was very different. What were some of the changes? How did you celebrate?

Everything was different when SHTF, yes. Living was hard, comfort was gone and everything was stripped“\ down to the bare survival. Lot of small commodities that we usually do not think about (we take it for granted) was simply gone because of obvious reasons (the whole system was out) but also because simply life becomes full of hard duties, to finish simple tasks and obtain resources becomes hard, dangerous and time-consuming.

Celebrations become rare and not so happy and big (not even near) but at the same time, they become more precious and needed too.

Get-togethers (family) become even more important because people lean much more on each other between groups or family, simply because they needed much more support – psychological. too – than in normal times.

A lot of religious people lost their faith when they saw family members dying. On the other side lot of people found God in those desperate times – as an only hope.

Being together with family members for small “time off“ become almost like small rituals, like a ritual of finding inner strength and support in order to push more through hard times.

Yes, religion was a big part of it, but it was not only about religion. It was about finding the strength in you and people close to you – family, and sharing it between each other.

Without access to storebought presents, what kinds of gifts did people give?

It could be divided into two groups:

Things that help you in the new reality:

All kind of things that helped you to solve all kind of problems that SHTF brought. For example, people who were skilled in handcrafting used to made cigar holders out of wood and bullets casing, it was very popular for smokers and the reason for that was because cigarettes were rare, and people usually smoked bad tobacco rolled in bad paper and good cigar holder (as a combination of cigar holder and pipe) was essential for smoking that stuff.

It was a small thing but really important if you were a smoker at that time.

Another example was a small handmade stove. It was made from thin metal, and in some cases it was portable. Point was that kind of stove needed a really small amount of wood ( fuel for the fire was important and hard and dangerous to get in urban settings) to make it really red hot and cook something quickly or boil water.

So cool and usable kind of inventions.

Things that connect you to normalcy

In this other group were all kind of things that connect you to the normal (prior SHTF) life. It was not only cool and nice to have those presents, but also it was important psychologically to taste something that actually makes you feel normal again.

For example, after living for months through collapse, one simple bottle of beer could make you feel human again, and it would somehow give you strength.

Sweets (candy), beer, spices, or even a few songs that someone play on guitar for you were precious.

What did you do for the children at Christmas to make it special?

Kids were somewhat “forgotten“ in the SHTF times. Quite simply not many people paid attention to them other than keeping them safe from dangers.

People did not have enough time to take care of their needs.

During the holidays, people usually wanted to give some kind of joy to them or to “keep the spirit“ of the holiday alive for them.

In the majority of cases, it was a very poor imitation of holidays in normal times.  For example, I remember that making pancakes (jam was made out of tomato juice and very expensive sugar) was considered alone like a holiday. Special food, or attempts to make some special food, for kids, were usual holiday presents for kids during that time. Today that kind of food would look ridiculous and not even edible probably, but in that time it was precious.

What did families serve for Christmas dinner in Bosnia during this time?

Traditionally for Christmas and New Year holidays in this region here, we eat huge amounts of meat, and drink wine, so people during the collapse tried to keep that tradition.

Again it was mostly unsuccessful in terms of normal, but in that time having hot stew kind of meal from MRE was considered holiday dinner, and actually, it was very very tasty and a “holiday spirit“ dinner considering what we usually ate.

Wine was not an option most of the time but hard alcohol was there.

In general, were people happy and joyous to find a chance to celebrate, or was it grim and depressing because it was so different?

The general picture looked like this: we were cold, more or less hungry, dirty, tired and unsure in the future, but yes we appreciate feeling of getting together for holiday and we were trying to keep the “spirit alive“.

Truth is that sometimes it worked, sometimes not.

But generally yes, psychologically it was important, it had its place, the get-together, take some time to try to feel normal again, to remember that we are still humans.

Definitely those moments were not bright and happy, like in normal times but on the other hand, those moments were appreciated and were much more real than in peacetime.

Do you have any holiday stories you can share from this time?

It is a big thing (I guess just like everywhere) to leave presents under the tree for Christmas and New Year here.

It is custom here to buy big bags (kids motifs of cartoons, fairy tales and similar) and fill it with favorite snacks, sweets, and toys of each kid and leave that bags under the tree (we did not have custom of socks or similar, we had those bags, to literally translate the name would be “kid package“).

Of course, it was out of the question to have the bags and sweets and toys in the middle of SHTF.

My uncle in that time came into an opportunity to make a deal with local small “warlord“ or gang leader if you like.

The deal was about giving some weapon for food (the guy had a connection with outside world) and my uncle “made a condition“ on the whole deal with the term that he will give a weapon for food but the additional deal was that he also need 3 “kids packages.”

In that time and particular moment, taking into consideration with what kind of people he was making a deal it was like he was asking a serial killer, to his face, to sing a gentle lullaby, and my uncle said that those guys simply could not believe what he asked.

Everybody was looking for or offering weapon, drugs, violent contract deals or even prostitutes from those people but he was looking for “kids packages“.

But they indulge him, and my uncle said that he thought they indulged him simply out of the fun, and out of the fact that it is gonna be a very interesting urban legend that someone could obtain kids packages in that time.

The guy even wrote down the list of sweets and toys that my uncle asked from him.

I think those sweets and toys when they came were one of the most unreal items in that time and place, but they were worth the effort.

It really gives you something to think about.

What a reality check. And how fortunate we are. Our version of “things were really tight this Christmas” is laughable in comparison to what is described above. I can’t thank Selco enough for sharing his stories with us.

I’ve often recommended prepping with things like cake mix, birthday candles, extra Christmas cards, and items that support your family traditions, and after reading what Selco had to say, I believe it’s even more important. You can’t overstate the psychological aspect of being able to provide that sense of normalcy.

What are your thoughts? How would you keep things “normal” in such a situation? Let’s talk about it in the comments section.

About Selco:

Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. He is currently accepting students for his next physical course here.

In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today.

He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless of what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months.

Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • I spent time in Yugoslavia prior to its collapse and most Americans would have not been able to live like that. I was latter deployed to there several years later as part of the peace keeping and it was frozen hell wet cold depressed. We as Americans are soft…humans are tough and can survive most extremes.

  • Daisy, that was an excellent interview with Selco. When he spoke of making do with the bare minimums, or whatever could be found, I thought of the seldom discussed ability of the near-pocket-carry four cross-members from

    They give you the ability to quickly make a high efficiency wood gas cookstove from dirt cheap tin cans, using the pointy parts of those cross members to poke useful holes, and then to support your cook pan or pot while keeping that new stove steady on perhaps ragged ground. Oh, and that stove can be fired from scrap tree twigs, found almost anywhere.


  • Thank you for posting this message.
    I have never lived or really visited any place that had extreme poverty or economic distress. I know it exists here in the USA but I live a pretty sheltered life!

    That being said, I have made it a policy in my home to make Christmas about Christ. It is when we, as Christians, celebrate the birth of our Savior. It is also a cultural norm for most of the country. I still do give gifts but they are, for the most part, handmade creations. I live on a limited budget so gift giving year round has to be very purposeful and inexpensive.

    This post certainly gives me food for thought.

  • great article. i have read some of selco’s work in the past. i credit him for not making it into a they did this, they did that interview as happens with yugoslav history…..(it wasn’t just the serbs…..)

    one of the best things i got out of reading his stuff, whether he knew it or not, was that you cannot plan for everything. only a few scenarios. and chances are, whatever you plan for will probably not be the thing that happens. kinda like the fake flu shots never matching the strain that gets into the population……

    on the war in yugoslavia. i ended up reading some history about it. then i watched a couple of very good documentaries about it. they are both on youtube if you have the inclination or the time, a good first start is a bbc production called “the death of yugoslavia” . since it is a bbc joint, it is slanted towards the globalsit agenda and leaves out some info, but… also interviews the players and they are very up front about what they saw happening…’s long but is a great primer. it does not include kosovo.
    follow that up with a doc called “the wieght of chains” it is much better and includes not only kosovo but the western powers culpability in the whole shit show. if you were going to only pick one, this is it. it’s also very eye opening about the whole “economic hitman”/ color revolution scenario. i think john perkins has a cameo in it.
    truly sad what happened there.

    and as they say, your tax dollars at work……

  • Thank you for posting this interview.

    Having a rough day, this certainly puts things in a new perspective.

    Hope you and yours have a Merry Christmas!

  • For New Years Eve, which was sorta of a continuation of Christmas if looked at as the end of the Fall/Winter Equinox, my mother would put lit candles in the half shells of walnuts, float them in a large bowl of water, with the room lights lowered. Each child would gently stir the water in a circle and then their fortune would be told for the coming year according to how the shells traveled or came together. The light from the candles would reflect off the water onto the walls as stories or fables were told to the kids. There were presents and cakes, lots of cakes, but it was the gathering of the family together that mattered. Afterwards, we went to midnight Mass with other families.
    Traditionally, All Saints Day, called Halloween here, the family would gather from near and far, and walk to the top of the hill where the family plots were for the whole town. Candles were placed to remember past generations. The night sky was lit up with the rose coloured glow of thousands of candles. Both the families and the town were bought together again.

    As an amusing foil, in a socialist country, Christmas cards with Santa Claus would have him illustrated with a Red star on his cap. Co-opted would be more appropriate.

    Happy Holidays

    • As usual, an afterthought.

      I was told, weather permitting, usually Mass was held on the top of a hill.

      Traditionally from the same area, a gathering of the town’s people to elect a mayor was also held on a hilltop. There an agreement was made between the people and the elected offical that each party was responsible for their part of the contract or it was voided. Today, I believe it is known as Contract Law. (or contact?)

  • My Mother grew up in the Philippines during the war. Her mother would begin gathering Ube for weeks in November and December. It was baked into a bluish cake. The kids got it one morning, and that meant it was Christmas. That’s all there was. The Japs took everything else.

    • Just reading this 4 years after you posted this. I’ve read about the siege of the Philippines. The people were very brave and suffered horribly. I appreciate your comment.

  • As an avid reader of The Selco Stories, I enjoy the tales of the hardships endured to give a little balance to my own life. But the nugget to take away from today’s story was the Uncle and the Warlord “deal”–I’d wager that the Warlord took kindly to the fact that the recipient for the trade was a kid. How are you going to hate on someone after that?
    Very Christmas-y. Thanks!
    Merry Christmas!

  • Here and now, or post-SHTF America Christmas, what would that look like?

    Where I live, the Great White (snowy) NE, where we average 20+ feet of snow, single digit and even negative digit temps are the normal, gathering with friends and family for a all out feast of good foods would be considered something to be thankful for.
    Sweets of various kinds, candies for the children, small but thoughtful gifts of the practical kind, be it home made gloves, cured ham, jerky, knitted wool socks or mittens, things that provide real comfort.
    Sharing a dinner with friends and family, a sense of community. Those are all things that bring people together. There are a number of Christmas songs that I enjoy and hope that we see those to be continued in a post-SHTF event.
    These moments in time, would be moments to treasure.
    If you have ever been over seas, in the military, having those around you to celebrate a holiday, you know what I am talking about.

    • The overseas deployments during holidays. Having deployed for all of them it was really different for me. I loved my brother’s in arms, but I knew this was just a short moment in time. Not all my holidays would be like this. For me it was an attempt at a false front of normality, but I never forgot just a short distance from where I was there were people who did not share my beliefs or who had any admiration for why I was there. Still had to run patrols, still had to worry about all the “stuff” associated with staying alive.
      Now as an “old man” I have lost most of my closest family as they have succumbed to age. The madness infecting this country has made the holidays a hollow shell of their former self; this is the new normal it seems. Civility, honor and righteousness are all casualties. As the curtain closes on this year ever smaller “normal” pockets of what we were continue to shrink. The new year brings more opportunities to continue to be prudent (and to learn). This year I am concentrating more on the spiritual and mental preparation as I believe that will be just as important as the rest. Having the will to “keep on” and help others do the same is paramount. I do not want to be the “Last Man Standing.”

  • While reading that article I couldn’t help but remember my Mother telling about living through the Depression as a child. She was a member of a farm family scratching out a living during that time. She said that for Christmas she and her sister would get a few pieces of hard candy and maybe an orange. That was it. I watched yesterday as my Grandson went through packages like a buzz saw, tossing one aside and moving on to the next one. SMH

  • I like the idea of birthday cake mixes etc. Someone local just reminded me of kids medicines when she can’t find medicine for her sick daughter. I’m stocking up on that to have on hand for my granddaughter and to barter with. Nothing worse than a sick child.

  • We also (temporarily) lived in the former Yugoslavia. Mid 1980s – 1991. We left when the war broke out. Those years taught us life lessons that were difficult; but life-changing-for-the-better. Our Christmases were very simple…delicious bread, horse sausages, oranges, a few bananas from Israel, (bananas were only in the market at that time of year.) We had a few homemade gifts for the children. We managed to afford a small Christmas tree. A precious few were sold in the market on December 15th. It was hauled home on the city bus. The tree was a sort of religious symbol; certainly not embraced by everyone. To decorate the tree we baked a few cookies into which we laid a small piece of bent wire to serve as hooks. After New Years we removed the then-stale cookies, and placed them in the warm oven to refresh, and enjoyed them with tea. Nothing was ever wasted. Those were precious and difficult times—the experiences were tuition towards a solid foundation of what is important in life. I would not trade them for anything. To this very day, as I read these recollections and get choked up. I am truly filled with gratitude. Also, I do not cater to spoiled people; but rather feel a bit of pity. Be encouraged, whatever your holiday financial situation; tell people when you love them and value them. It goes a long way. I send you comfort and joy.

  • I’d like your opinion on a topic that is being discussed in a ‘prepper group’ of which I’m a member.
    The community seems to be divided into two camps.

    One camp argues that OPSEC is the Gold Standard, and that preps should be reserved exclusively for members of one’s own ‘tribe’. In most cases, that ‘tribe’ is close family and maybe a couple of trusted associates.

    The other camp argues for an altruistic approach. They hold that preps should be shared with needy individuals who may have failed to provide for themselves. This approach is sometimes justified by the argument that, “Those people might have useful skills which I need.”

    I will not say into which camp I fall.

    But, I’d be interested to hear Selco’s opinions on the matter, especially if those opinions are supported by direct observations from the Bosnian conflict.

    • Op Sec v. Helping As Many As You Can.
      That depends on the situation. Helping everyone is for normal times. Helping everyone you can is for bad times. Use a food bank to maintain anonymity. Because bad can go to worse. In really terrible times, you HAVE to go op sec because you can feed a few, but you cannot feed the whole town or the whole state. Feeding the few is very dangerous in horrific times. Word will travel about where “food can be found,” hordes many times larger than your whole stash will appear, and you will be murdered for it.

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