Croatia Christmas Traditions

Customs and Practices in Croatia for the Holiday Season

Licitar Heart
••• Licitar Heart. iStockphoto/mushisushi

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. Furthermore, the Dubrovnik Christmas market takes place as a part of the annual holiday events in this top destination city.

Christmas Eve in Croatia

Christmas Eve, called Badnjak in Croatia, is celebrated in a similar manner to other countries of Eastern Europe.

Straw may be placed underneath the Christmas Eve tablecloth. Fish, as a substitute for meat, is served, though a meat dish is usually presented as the entree on Christmas Day. Other dishes include stuffed cabbage, poppyseed rolls, and a cake made from figs. A yule log may be burned after being sprinkled with holy water or spirits, its fire tended throughout the night so that the flame does not extinguish from neglect.

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. The wheat may then be placed under the Christmas tree, and its height, density, and overall lushness coincide with how much luck the grower can expect in the coming months. It symbolizes the new bread of the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Christmas Day is spent with family or at church. "Sretan Bozic" is the Croatian way of saying "Merry Christmas." The Christmas season comes to a close on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6.

Santa Claus and Gift-Giving in Croatia

Some Croatians open gifts on Christmas Day, but Croatia also recognizes St. Nicholas Day.

Gifts are sometimes given on St. Lucy's 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. Croatian children may put their shoes on the windowsill to be filled with treats rather than hang a stocking.

Croatian Christmas Decorations

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 typical Christmas decoration. Straw, brought into the house as partial reminder of the original Christmas manger, is associated with superstition. If a man sits on the straw first, the farm animals will produce female offspring, but if a woman sits on it first, the opposite will happen, according to tradition.

Christmas Gifts from Croatia

If you're shopping for Christmas gifts in Croatia, consider local products like olive oil or wine. Other gifts from Croatia include jewelry, embroidery, and the licitar hearts that are sold by vendors offering traditional goods.