Croatia's Catholic heritage can be seen in its celebration of Christmas, which falls on December 25 in Croatia. If you're in Croatia's capital city, do pay a visit to the Zagreb Christmas market, which appears, along with festive decorations, on the main square.
|Christmas Eve, called Badnjak in Croatia, is celebrated in a similar manner to other countries of Europe. Straw may be placed underneath the Christmas Eve tablecloth. Fish, as a substitute for meat, is served, though a meat dish is usually served as the entree on Christmas Day. A yule log may be burnt and church may be attended.|
On Christmas Eve, the Christmas wheat, which has been sprouting since St. Lucy's Day on the 13th of December, is tied with ribbon in the colors of the Croatian flag – red, white, and blue. Sometimes a candle in combination with other symbolic items is placed within the wheat.
Christmas Day is spent with family or at church.
Since I was a kid I adored Christmas time. Maybe because I was over sensitive in the winter and instead of going to the kindergarten I usually stayed at my grandmas house. It was the best time ever. Since the beginning of the Advent she was baking all sorts of cookies, bishops bread (something like Weihnachtsstollen), "paprenjaci" (Pfefferkuchen) and whole house smelt of vanilla and cinnamon. It was the time for stories, singing Christmas songs and enjoying the warmth of old stove while snow was falling outside. At St. Lucia`s day I would help Granny to start growing wheat in small pots for Christmas. If the wheat is strong and green for Christmas, next year will be fruitful and joyful.
Few days before Christmas mom would wake me up and say the most awaited line: "Come on, it is time to pick up our Christmas tree". We would spend hours searching for the perfect one and of course during the search we would go to the coffee shop for a cup of hot tea and some pie. I felt so grown up.
Then came Christmas eve, we call it "Badnjak". Preparations for the evening would start early in the morning. First it was time to bring the tree in the house. Then the grownups would start preparing a special dinner - fish and salads - while my task would be to check all the decorations, sort them out and prepare them for decorating. Later in the afternoon daddy would say "It`s time" and I would rush to help him decorate the tree and the front door. As I became older that became my task. We would play some Christmas music, our old religious Christmas folk songs and start decorating. Our tree is a very traditional one, with candles and "licitari" (decorations made of special pastry colored red in different shapes like the hart, cross, cherries, horses, dolls etc.). All in red and green, it looked perfect.
In the meantime, mom would set the table and call us children to the kitchen because it is the time when Kristkindl comes and daddy has to talk to him. Mom explained that daddy is telling him that we`ve been good and deserve the presents. Oh, it was always too long. We would ask every minute "was it a bell?" and finally daddy would ring the tiny bell to announce that Kristkindl has gone and we can come in. The room would be dark with only candles lit on the tree. We would sing the special Croatian Christmas song "King is born", blow out all the candles, congratulate Christmas one to another and then there was time to open the presents. We would sit around the tree and daddy would share the presents " this one is for mom, this one is for you, oh this is mine, Nina this is yours, one more for you...".
When we have opened all the gifts it was time for dinner. On Christmas eve you are not allowed to eat meat, fasting was recommended during a day with fish dishes in the evening. And cake after wards, of course. As midnight was approaching, we would start dressing up to go to the church for midnight mass. We would meet all our friends and relatives there and we, the children, would discuss who received what for Christmas. That was the end of Christmas eve.
The next morning, after breakfast we would go to my grandparents house for a big Christmas lunch where the whole family would gather. My grandparents, my aunt and her family and us. There was another Christmas tree with presents underneath. "Oh, yes, Kristkindl stopped by last evening and left something for you" grandma used to say. Lunch was always the biggest family lunch in the year. First some appetizers, than home made soup, after wards sarma (dish made of minced meat and Sauerkraut), followed by turkey with "mlinci" (special Croatian pasta), roasted beef and potatoes, salads and cookies and cakes at the end. It was usually a six course meal that would last at least three hours. We would spend the rest of the day playing games, talking and enjoying being all together for Christmas. The day after Christmas (Stefans day) is a day to visit friends and relatives and to bring them a little something for the fruitful year to come.
Much of the Christmas festivities are centered around the table and food. As it is customary in Catholic countries, most Croats do not eat meat on Christmas Eve; instead they eat fish. Traditionally on the Dalmatian coast, this meal has consisted of dried salted cod-bakalar.
For Christmas dinner, the main course may be roast suckling pig, turkey or any other meat, depending on the region of Croatia. And of course, Christmas cakes (Božićni kolači). The central part of the Christmas tradition, however, is the fresh Christmas Eve Bread, or Badnji Kruh, made with honey, nuts and dried fruit. The Christmas Braid is another Christmas bread. The dough, made with nutmeg, raisins and almonds, is braided into a wreath and glazed. Many place wheat with candles in the center of the bread and use it as a centerpiece for Christmas dinner. It is left on the table until the Epiphany (January 6), when it is cut and eaten.
On St. Lucy's Day (December 13), wheat grains are planted in a round dish or plate and are left to germinate. By Christmas Eve, the sprouted tender green shoots about eight inches high are tied with a red, white and blue ribbon, the Croatian trobojnica. A candle is usually placed in the center of the wheat. In the Gorski Kotar region of Croatia, a small glass with water and oil is placed in the center of the wheat, on which a floating wick (a dusica-from the word for soul, dusa) is placed. Its glow can be seen through, rather than above, the wheat. The glow represents the soul within each of us.
Božićna zvijezda - Poinsettia
|Besides sprouting wheat, Croatians decorate with wreaths and trees. Licitar hearts – or hand-decorated cookies – often decorate Christmas trees in Croatia. Christmas creches are also used for decoration in Croatia. Various greenery, including evergreen boughs, is a very traditional type of Christmas decoration
At Christmas, Croatian houses are decorated with greenery: ivy, holly, branches of oak or maple, fir or evergreen trees. Preparations for Christmas, including decorating the Christmas tree, begin on Christmas Eve, called Badnjak. The word "badnjak" itself comes from the word for a yule log, which is brought in and placed on the hearth. Straw, upon which wishes are made, is brought into the house, and candles are lit for the departed. According to tradition, Croats spend Badnjak awake, burning candles and lighting the yule log.
Many families decorate Christmas trees with the Licitar hearts (Licitarska srca). This unique Croatian decoration is made of edible materials, although it primarily serves as decoration. The dough, mostly shaped in hearts, is colored red. Colorful designs are added to it, including sayings and little mirrors. The Licitar hearts originated in Sestine, near Zagreb where they continue to be produced, although the tradition has spread across Croatia.
The Christmas table is also set on Badnjak. It is covered with one or several ornamented tablecloths, under which straw is laid. In the spot where the straw is underneath the tablecloth, Christmas bread is positioned on top of the cloth. Pastry plaits decorate the bread, dividing it into four sections. Although the fruits and nuts, which are set on the table vary in each region, they include walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, apples, figs, and other dried fruits. Wine and brandy are set on the table as complimentary drinks.
Christmass Tree - Božićna jelka
|Some Croatians open gifts on Christmas Day, but Croatia also recognizes St. Nicholas (Sveti Nikola) Day. Gifts are sometimes given on St. Lucy's (Sveta Lucija) Day, as well. The Croatian Santa Claus is sometimes described as Djed Mraz (the Croatian counterpart of Ded Moroz, who may visit children on New Year's Eve), Djed Božićnjak (Grandfather Christmas), or Baby Jesus.
Although gifts are given on Christmas day, this is not the main gift-giving day for Croats, who view Christmas day more as a holy day of spiritual celebration. Children in Croatia receive gifts from saints, depending upon where they live. In southern and northeastern Croatia, St. Lucy traditionally brings gifts to children, while in northern and central Croatia, St. Nicholas brings gifts. The celebration of St. Nicholas Day (December 6) as the main gift-giving holiday of the Christmas season stems from the European Catholic church. In North America and Western Europe, the Evangelical church transferred this tradition to Christmas day, transforming St. Nicholas into Santa Claus. Although Croatia has also adopted the tradition of giving gifts on Christmas day, these gifts are said to be brought by the baby Jesus. During Communist rule in Croatia, when religious holidays were not officially acknowledged, presents were given on New Year's Day by a figure known as Father Frost, although many families privately celebrated the traditional Christian holidays.
According to Croatian tradition, on the eve of St. Nicholas Day, children polish a pair of boots and place them on a window sill for Saint Nicholas to fill; however, what they are filled with depends on how well behaved the child has been. Children are reminded that instead of candy, fruit and gifts, their boots could be filled with switches, which may be put to use!
The Christmas festivities officially end on the Epiphany, when priests visit their parishioners to bless their homes. Families take down Christmas trees and decorations on that day as well.
If you're shopping for Christmas gifts in Croatia or Bosnia and Herzegovina, consider local products like olive oil or wine. Other gifts from Croatia include jewelry, embroidery, rosary, bracelets, and the licitar hearts that are sold by vendors offering traditional goods.