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Is this the final Serbian Christmas?

by Linda Hiller, staff writer

Just about the time you get over being full from all your holiday eating, Sharkey’s 30th Serbian Christmas will be coming into view, with plenty of food, music and celebration … all for free.

This year, as always, the event will take place Jan. 7 at Sharkey’s Nugget Casino, located at the corner of Highway 395 and Gilman Avenue in downtown Gardnerville.

But for the first time in three decades, some are saying this may be the last Serbian Christmas at Sharkey’s.

“The Serbs are gonna do it again, so if people want to experience it, I recommend they come this year for sure,” said Milos “Sharkey” Begovich, owner of Sharkey’s Nugget and the founder of the free yearly feast. “This could be the last fandango and that’s all I can say.”

Rumors of the possible sale of Sharkey’s Nugget Casino – a popular gambling house, eatery, meeting place and virtual museum – have been surfacing since summer, but the Gardnerville casino owner was unable to officially confirm or deny those speculations.

“That is a beautiful way to say it – I won’t confirm or deny it,” he said. “I don’t want to comment right now.”

n Christmas in January. Sharkey did talk about the 30th Serbian Christmas celebration, however, saying that Sharkey’s will be providing much of the same food, music, camaraderie and celebration that they’ve organized and offered for the last 29 years.

Sharkey has offered the Serbian Christmas every year since 1971. A casino fire on Oct. 28, 1995 closed Sharkey’s for 2-1/2 months, cancelling the 1996 celebration, but the following year, Sharkey resumed the tradition.

This year’s 30th aniversary of the Carson Valley’s biggest free feast holds many memories for Sharkey.

“Oh, we’ll have the same food and music we’ve always had – I’ve lived this for the last 74 years,” he said. “But having it be the 30th, it reminds me that I was a young man 30 years ago when it started.”

The Serbian Christmas celebration was observed by Sharkey’s mother, Sophia, in her Plymouth, Calif., boarding house for 55 years, and he has carried on the tradition in her honor.

“All over the world, Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas from the Gregorian calendar rather than our calendar, and so it falls on Jan. 7,” Sharkey said.

Tens of thousands of people have attended the annual event over the years, partaking in traditional Serbian food including roast goat and pig, side dishes and dessert. Volunteers staff the serving lines – many coming year after year – and many of those who come to eat have traveled to Gardnerville every January for years.

Accordian music by Dick Reinko of Reno and a Basque music group from San Jose are slated to entertain feast-goers Sunday evening.

This year’s free dinner is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 7, from 4 p.m. to “whenever the people stop coming,” Sharkey said.