In Croatia, preparations for Christmas begin on November 25, which is the day of St. Catherine. People also celebrate Advent.
More than 85% of people in Croatia are Catholics, so Advent is an important time for them. It is traditional to have an Advent made of straw or evergreen twigs that has four candles.
The crown symbolizes the infinite and the four candles symbolize different parts of history and life:
- First candle (purple): creation – hope;
- Second candle (purple): incarnation – peace;
- Third candle (pink): redemption – joy;
- Fourth candle (purple): final – love;
Sometimes a fifth candle is added in the center that is lit on Christmas day. You can buy crowns, but many people like to make them. People also usually have an advent calendar on paper.
In addition to St. Catherine’s Day, other days are celebrated in Advent in Croatia. December 4 is the day of Santa Barbara; December 6 is the day of San Nicolás and December 13 is the day of Santa Lucía / Lucía.
On the eve of San Nicolás (5th), the children clean their shoes / boots and leave them in the window. They expect San Nicolás to leave chocolates and small gifts in their boots. If the kids have been naughty, Krampus (a big monster with horns that sometimes travels with Saint Nicholas!) Leaves gold twigs to remind them to behave.
On St. Lucia’s day, people often sow wheat in small plates. Grassy sprouts that grow (called Christmas wheat) are placed under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.
Christmas trees are very popular and are usually decorated on Christmas Eve, but some people wear them and decorate them on St. Nicholas Day. In Croatia they are traditionally decorated with ornaments in the shape of fruits. They used to be real fruits or persevered fruits that were sometimes covered in gold!
There is an old Croatian tradition that young people gave their girlfriends an apple decorated at Christmas.
In rural areas of the country, it is still customary to bring straw to the house on Christmas Eve as a symbol of future good harvests. A yule record called “badnjak” (also the word for Christmas Eve) was traditionally brought to the house and lit on Christmas Eve. But not many people have fireplaces these days!
The gifts are normally exchanged on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Many people like to go to midnight mass.
In Croatian Happy / Merry Christmas is ‘Sretan Božić’.
Christmas eve and Christmas day are mostly celebrated with close family members. On the day of boxing, friends and family visit each other.
On Christmas Eve, most people eat dried cod called ‘bakalar’ or some other type of fish, since it is considered fast meat (so you can not eat meat).
The main Christmas day is often turkey, goose or duck. A popular accompaniment is the sarma (cabbage rolls stuffed with minced pork).
There are always lots of little cookies and cakes to eat with donuts that are very popular! There is ‘Krafne’ that is filled with jam, jelly, jam or chocolate and also ‘fritule’ that are seasoned with lemon and rum. The Christmas celebrations end in Epiphany (January 6).