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CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS IN CROATIA
Christmas customs in Croatia are rich and diverse, with each region having its own traditions and festivities. Planting wheat, placing straw, and lighting the Yule log are just some of the customs that may not be known worldwide but are still carefully preserved in Croatia. Many of them are common across different regions, but each is realized in its own unique way. In this text, we will present some of the (pre)Christmas customs in Croatia.
Wheat under the Christmas Tree
A traditional custom in many parts of Croatia is the planting of wheat in a container before Christmas. This custom has a deeply rooted symbolic significance, representing growth and rebirth, and serves as a beautiful decoration under the Christmas tree. Wheat is sown on the feast of St. Lucy, and by Christmas, a beautiful bunch grows, placed under the tree alongside gifts and often adorned further.
Fasting on Christmas Eve
Fasting and abstaining from meat on Christmas Eve is a traditional custom that many believers in Croatia practice as preparation for Christmas. On this day, pre-prepared Christmas cakes are usually not eaten (fasting), and the emphasis is on fish rather than meat (abstinence). Although not native to the Adriatic Sea, cod has become the most common fish eaten on Christmas Eve in Croatia over time. However, especially in coastal areas, people still consume fish from the Adriatic Sea on that day. Fasting on Christmas Eve in Croatia holds strong cultural and religious significance. It not only reminds people of the spiritual values of Christmas but also strengthens the sense of unity and family connection during the holidays.
Straw and Yule Log
In many parts of Croatia, especially in rural areas, it is a traditional custom to bring straw and a Yule log (trunk, stump, or split log) into the house on Christmas Eve. In some parts of Croatia, this log is called “badnjak,” while in Istria, for example, it is called “cok.” This custom dates back to the time when all houses were heated with wood and had hearths, and in many parts of Croatia, it was customary to light the log (or three logs) and keep it smoldering for days, preferably until Epiphany. It is believed that the ash from the Yule log/cot has protective and fertile properties, and sometimes it is scattered in fields or gardens. Bringing in straw and a Yule log has numerous meanings and interpretations, from the symbolism of hope, death, and rebirth to the simple symbolism of the warmth of a family home during the cold winter months.
Croatian tradition, especially in coastal regions such as Dalmatia, Istria, and Kvarner, includes caroling or Christmas singing. Groups of children and adults go from house to house singing traditional Christmas songs, bringing joy and holiday spirit to the neighborhood. In return, they receive sweets, fruit, or small gifts.
With all these mentioned traditions, Croatians also decorate Christmas trees, place gifts under them, attend midnight Mass, invite family and friends for Christmas Eve and Christmas lunch, etc. All these customs create a particularly warm, heartfelt atmosphere during this period and bring the community together, nurturing a sense of unity and a shared cultural identity. Although Christmas is a family holiday, throughout Croatia, local communities also participate in communal gatherings on the streets and squares. This creates a uniquely magical experience for visitors during the Christmas holidays, making all places across Croatia ideal destinations for winter holidays.