Croatia – A European Christmas Story

In Croatia, preparations for Christmas start on 25th November which is St Catherine’s day. People also celebrate Advent. Over 85% of people in Croatia are Catholics so Advent is an important time for them.

It’s traditional to have an Advent wreath made of straw or evergreen twigs which has four candles. The wreath symbolizes endlessness and the four candles symbolize different parts of history and life:

First Candle (purple): creation – hope;

Second Candle (purple): embodiment – peace;

Third Candle (pink): redemption – joy;

Fourth Candle (purple): ending – love;

A fifth candle is sometimes added in the centre which is lit on Christmas Day!

In Croatian Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Sretan Božić’

In the village in Dalmatia where my family is from, Christmas is above all things a community celebration. People do not stay in their respective homes, but rather visit each other in large groups and spend time singing together.

Christmas Eve starts with the closer family – which often includes three generations in one household – wishing each other a “welcome Christmas Eve” and putting straw on the floor of their living rooms. This is to symbolise the stable in which Jesus was born. The children of the house usually bring in the sack of straw, as well as some firewood, by knocking on the door and then being welcomed into the living area with a traditional greeting. After Christmas Mass in the local village church, while the bells are ringing out, the celebration begins by the entire community going from house to house, where they are welcomed with some snacks and – most importantly – homemade spirits.

In each house, people toast each other and sing Christmas Carols until deep into the night. On the morning of Christmas Day, the men of the village would gather at a main square and once again start singing. The festive spirit continued throughout the day, during which also gifts were opened and a large celebratory lunch was served.

On Christmas Eve: Straw on the living room floor, pieces of firewood, candles, a Christmas tree with decorations and a crib underneath the tree, with figures depicting the holy family, angels, and animals. Croatian society is more centred around faith, and more Catholic traditions are observed.

A personal story:

By Magdalena Males

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

The meal on Christmas Eve is traditionally a “fasting” meal without meat, so often fish and white wine are served. On Christmas Day, the 25th, several courses are served during the large family lunch, including sauerkraut rolls with meat and rice filling (sarma), as well as often grilled lamb and a side dish that consists of thin sheets of baked dough that are then soaked in broth or gravy (mlinci).

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Lighting a big bonfire in the snow on Boxing Day.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Presents are normally exchanged on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Many people like to go to a Midnight Mass service.

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