CROATIA

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia, Christmas (Croatian: Bo_i_, Slovene: Bo_i_) is celebrated mainly as a religious holiday. The festivities begin on Saint Nicholas’s Day on December 6 (in Slovenia) or St. Lucy’s on December 13 depending on what region (in Croatia). St. Lucy or St. Nicholas brings children presents, and St. Nicholas is said to be accompanied by Krampus who steals away the presents of bad children. This “anti-Santa” is said to have one cloven hoof, a handful of heavy chains, and a sack on his back to collect naughty children. In Croatia on St. Lucy’s, families will plant wheat seeds in a bowl of shallow water, which will grow several inches by Christmas and are then tied together with a red, blue and white ribbon called trobojnica’.
On Christmas Eve (Croatian: Badnjak, Slovene: Sveti ve_er (holy eve)), three candles representing the Trinity are lit and placed in the middle of the wheat, the glow symbolizes the soul of each person. On this day, the tree is decorated, the home is decked with greenery and the women already beginning to prepare the Christmas meal. They also bake special types of bread: one is round inscribed with a cross on top known as the cesnica, another is made with honey, nuts and dried fruit called the Christmas Eve Bread (Croatian: Badnji Kruh, Slovene: Bo_i_ni kruh). In many villages, straw (which symbolizes Christ’s birth in the manger) is spread around the floors of the home for the Christmas Eve dinner. As is customary with Catholic people, meat is not consumed in Croatia, while in Slovenia it is. Instead of meat in Croatia and with other food in Slovenia, salad and fish is served, many choosing to eat the Dalmatian specialty bakalar, dried cod fish. The family then sprinkle holy water on their Yule log (badnjak) which they light and watch. In villages, the badnjak is freshly cut that very morning by the father of the household while reciting traditional prayers. At the end of the meal, a piece of the cesnica is cut and dipped in wine and used to sprinkle on the candles to extinguish them, while reciting the Trinitarian formula (“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen”).

Many families will go to a midnight mass on Christmas Eve and often another on Christmas Day. It is common for Christmas presents to be placed under the tree, to suggest that the Angel or the Baby Jesus (Mali Isus) leaves them there while others are attending midnight mass. Presents are opened after the mass. Christmas is a day of celebrating with family; a large feast is prepared and traditional foods such as stuffed cabbage, turkey, pot roast, pita and smoked meat are served, along with various desserts such as fritule, potica (especially in Slovenia), strudel, and cookies.

Slovenes are also visited by another one of their trije dobri mo_je (three good guys), who bring presents in December: Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus and Dedek Mraz (“Grandfather Frost”). Families mostly celebrate New Year’s Eve at home with extended family members, friends, and sometimes neighbours. Women prepare cabbage sarma, which they will eat on January 1 to symbolize good fortune, and steak tartare, which they eat on New Year’s Eve on toast with butter. At midnight, people go outdoors to watch fireworks, while Dedek Mraz leaves presents under the tree. Epiphany on January 6 marks the end of the Christmas season.

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