Feature: Sarajevo welcomes Merjem, first baby of 2021

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SARAJEVO, Jan. 4 (Xinhua) -- Meliha Rahic delivered Merjem, a healthy baby girl at 6:40 a.m. on Jan. 1, which made her the first child born in 2021 in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

As per a relatively new tradition introduced in 2014, the city's Mayor, Abdulah Skaka, visited the mother the next morning with a flower bouquet and a gift of 500 BiH convertible marks (about 315 U.S. dollars) to Sarajevo's New Year's Baby.

Following the hospital's strict pandemic rules, the mayor and his assistant first had to disinfect themselves, put on protective masks, keep ample distance from the mother and then keep the visit as short as possible.

"Yes, it was a really brief visit," Rahic said. "They entered, congratulated me, left the presents with the nurse, and left."

"My husband Mirza has a drywall business and I'm a housewife," she said.

In a telephone interview, she explained that due to the pandemic she had to reduce her visits to the gynecologist and the pregnancy checks to the minimum. She could pay six visits only to Sarajevo's General Hospital Abdulah Nakas, where Merjem was finally born.

This hospital had its hands full during the pandemic but still managed to open a new, isolated wing with 44 beds and four ventilators for treating COVID-19 patients.

"Luckily, everything went really well during the whole pregnancy, so I can't say the pandemic made it hard for me and my family. My husband's business didn't suffer a lot so far," said Rahic.

"We picked the baby's name from the Quran, the holy book for Muslims," she added.

The tradition of celebrating the first baby born each year may well be as old as the name Merjem. New Year's Babies symbolize the "birth" of the next year and the "passing" of the prior year. The ancient Greeks believed that Dionysus, their god of fertility and wine, was reborn every New Year as the spirit of fertility. They celebrated the day by placing a baby in a basket and parading it through town.

In Sarajevo, the New Year's Baby tradition may be new, but there is already at least one anecdote worth telling. In 2019, Mayor Skaka visited a newborn at the city's University Clinical Center, but his office later realized that another baby was actually the year's first delivered at General Hospital Abdulah Nakas.

"So we visited the hospital as well and brought presents to both babies," Mayor Skaka said.

"The beautiful tradition of visiting and bringing gifts to the firstborn baby in a new calendar year, nurtured by the city of Sarajevo, could not be stopped by the coronavirus," Skaka wrote on social media. "We care about our youngest, who are the future of this city. We wish them a carefree childhood in an orderly Sarajevo. The joy of birth takes us into 2021 in the most beautiful way and we hope this year will be a lot better than the previous one. Merjem, welcome to the world!" Enditem

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