Christmas traditions in Croatia
Sveta Kata (St. Catherine's Day)
For the majority of Croatians preparations for Christmas commence on Advent Sunday (as is customary in most western countries) however this isn't true for all of Croatia!
In some parts of Croatia preparations for Christmas begin on Sveta Kata (also referred to as Sveta Katarina) on 25th November and last for an entire month, although this isn't a very common practice.
Insider tip: Get married before St. Kate closes the door!
A proverb in those parts of Croatia, Sveta Kata zatvara vrata which translates to mean "St. Kate closes the door" and indicates that no weddings or other large celebrations should be held after the 25th November!
Prva adventska nedjelja (Advent Sunday)
4th Sunday before Christmas Day
Prva adventska nedjelja marks the beginning of the season of Advent.
On this day, the first (of four) candles in the Advent wreath is lit. In the past, Croatians used to braid their own Advent wreaths from evergreen branches in such a way that there was no beginning nor the end in the wreath, which symbolised eternity.
Sveti Nikola (St. Nicholas' Day)
Generally, Croatians love giving gifts and Sveti Nikola marks the beginning of the gift-giving season in December!
On the eve of St. Nicholas' Day, children traditionally clean their boots and leave them on the window sill, hoping that St. Nicholas will bring them gifts, usually sweets ... while those children who weren't good that year get sticks instead!
St. Nicholas is accompanied by Krampus, a hairy demon. While Nicholas rewards the good children, it's Krampus who leaves sticks for the children who behaved badly so that their parents can discipline them!
Sveta Lucija (St. Lucia's Day)
In southern and north-eastern Croatia traditionally it was Sveta Lucija that brought gifts, while children in central and northern Croatia used to receive gifts on St. Nicholas' Day.
And in fact, in the past no gifts were given or received on Christmas day at all!
Nowadays, December has become a real win-win situation for kids in Croatia, since many of them now get presents on St. Nicholas' Day, St. Lucia's Day AND on Christmas Day!
Božićna pšenica (Christmas wheat)
On 4th December mothers – or, sometimes, daughters – plant wheat grains, usually in a round dish, which is known as božićna pšenica (Christmas wheat).
The belief is that the taller the wheat grows, the more prosperous the coming year will be. This tradition dates back to times when agriculture was the main economic activity.
By Christmas Eve, the wheat, now hopefully tall, green and beautiful, is tied with a ribbon in red, white and blue – the colours of the Croatian flag.
Insider tip: the Slavonian weather forecast
In Slavonia, people pay close attention to the weather on each day from St. Lucia's day until Christmas, which falls on the 12th day from St. Lucia's Day. They believe that the weather on each of these days indicated what the weather will be like on each of the following 12 months of the upcoming year.
Badnjak or Badnji dan (Christmas Eve)
The word Badnjak, which is how Croatian's refer to Christmas Eve, comes from the name of the log lit on Badnja večer, the evening before Christmas Day, usually by the father of the family. In some regions of Croatia (e.g. Dalmatia) the log is sprinkled with wine before being lit.
The badnjak log is usually cut on Christmas Eve in the morning, but this custom is also prone to regional interpretations. However, the log is supposed to be kept burning throughout the whole of Christmas Day. Note that, nowadays, the custom of lighting a badnjak is practiced only in rural areas, for obvious reasons.
Decorating the Christmas tree
Decorating Christmas trees didn't become a custom in Croatia until the mid-19th century. Before then, homes were normally decorated on Christmas Eve with flowers and fruits, mostly apples, plums and pears. Children were usually in charge of decorating their homes on Christmas Eve. Apart from flowers and fruits, children used to make paper ornaments.
Following the introduction of Christmas trees, at first deciduous trees were used, and these were decorated with gilded walnuts and hazelnuts. It was only later that evergreen trees become more common.
Christmas candles have always been an important Christmas ornament and they were usually placed in the middle of the round plate where the Christmas wheat grew.
Later, trees were also decorated with small pieces of cotton or paper, symbolising snow. In the olden days it was only the wealthy that could afford the luxury of possessing special Christmas ornaments or figurines.
Božić (Christmas day)
On Božić (Christmas day), the dinner typically consists of
- sarme (cabbage rolls, stuffed with meat and rice)
- all kinds of roasted meat, domestic sausages,
- slanina (bacon) and
- panceta (pancetta)
- cheese and pršut (prosciutto, typical for Dalmatia) or
- kulen (a type of spicy pork sausages, typical for Slavonia) ...
... as well as all sorts of cakes which are traditionally baked on Christmas Eve.
In some parts of in northern and north-eastern Croatia, there is a tradition that groups of 3 boys, called zvjezdari (zvijezda meaning star, named after the Bethlehem star made of cardboard that they carry with them) or betlehemari or svjećari (svijeća = light; candle) go from house to house and people give them gifts.
Zvjezdari are sometimes accompanied by other boys who sing occasional songs.
Do you know the following Christmas words/phrases?
Djed Mraz Answer Santa Claus
sanjke Answer sleigh
božićni pokloni Answer Christmas gifts
adventski vijenac Answer Advent wreath
sob Answer reindeer
božićni ukrasi Answer Christmas decorations
snježna pahulja Answer snowflake
božićno drvce Answer Christmas tree
Božićna svijeća Answer Christmas candle
Sretan Božić! Answer Merry Christmas!
Sretna Nova godina! Answer Happy New Year!
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