Christmas traditions in Croatia
Learn all about the wonderful mix of modern and classic Christmas customs.
Christmas in Croatia has changed over the years. Today, we decorate our houses with hundreds of Christmas lights, we have Christmas markets in almost every town, we drink mulled wine, give each other fancy presents, and watch movies like Home Alone and Love Actually.
It wasn’t like that in the past, of course. Some traditions died out, like bringing a log into the house and keeping it lit in the fireplace during Christmas Day. However, there are some irresistible customs Croats still adhere to. Take a look at the most fun ones!
Lighting the candles of the Advent wreath
You can see an Advent wreath in the center of every traditional household in Croatia. It’s an old Catholic tradition marking the official beginning of Christmastime. Usually, the whole family gathers around the table to witness the lighting of a new candle each Sunday before Christmas. Today, when the first candle lights up, it also means most Croatian Christmas markets are open for business, woohoo!
Planting wheat on St Lucia’s Day
Croatian Christmas trees are incomplete if there’s not a wheat pot underneath! Tradition dictates you plant it on St Lucia’s Day on December 13th; this way, there is enough time that it grows beautifully and you make your grandma proud. Many Croats will confirm that wheat growing is a delicate business, but don’t worry if you don’t succeed, you can buy it at any local store. You don’t want to miss putting it underneath the Christmas tree, because it brings luck to the following year.
Getting candy in your boots on St Nicholas’ Day
Before Santa Claus, Europeans know there was St Nicholas. To this day, Croatian children expect to get presents from this historical persona on December 6th. They have to clean their little boots, put them on the windowsill, and be good all year — easy, right? If they have been nice, in the morning they’ll see the boots filled with candy, and if they were naughty, evil Krampus will bring them a small wooden stick called šiba. Croatian parents usually bring them both to remind children that everybody has a little bit of both in them.
Trying not to eat too much (and failing)
It’s no secret that Croats love their winter food. One of the favorites is sarma, cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and minced meat, served throughout the whole festive period. Christmas Eve is usually reserved for cod with a side of potatoes, although each part of Croatia has its unique spin on it. On Christmas, Croats will prepare a roast accompanied by mlinci, thin flatbread broken into small pieces, and mixed with roasting juices. You’ll also find an abundance of traditional desserts on Croatian Christmas tables. Walnut, poppy seed, fig and carob cakes are just some of the delicious specialties.
There’s one more thing very important to Croats during holidays — spending time with your family. You’ll see your distant cousins and answer awkward questions about when you’re planning to get married, all while having a good time and drinking an occasional shot of rakija.
There’s no denying it, Croatian Christmas is something everybody needs to experience!