A Croatian Christmas in Canada

To me, Christmas is more than opening presents and decorating a tree.¬† For me, it has, and forever always will¬†be about tradition.¬† Being Croatian, it was important for my parents to pass down their traditions from their homeland to my brother and I.¬† It’s about getting together with friends and family.¬† It’s about faith,¬†charity and spreading love.¬† It’s no joke when they say that Christmas is the most wonderful time of year because it truly is.¬† Christmas is a very special time of year, not just for Croatians but for Catholics and Christians worldwide.

As I child, I was always amazed by my parents’ stories of¬†¬†their Christmas celebrations in Croatia.¬†¬†My parents grew up in the inlands of Dalmatia, in a small village called Ruda in the municipality of Otok, located by nearby Sinj.¬† The Christmas my parents experienced was very different than the one I had:¬† there was no tree, there were no presents, but there was a home full of family, faith, food and love.¬†¬†¬†During the Christmas season, hay would be laid throughout the house and children would receive special treats such as oranges, figs and if they were very lucky, chocolates.¬†¬† Certainly this was a humbling experience!

The Christmas season officially begins four Sundays before Christmas, called Advent.  Most Croatians will place a wreath in their homes with four candles which symbolize hope, faith, joy and peace.

Feast of Saint Nicholas – December 6
On the Eve of Saint Nicholas day, children will leave boots by their front doors in hopes that Saint Nicholas will visit them and bring them a treat.  However, if the child was naughty, then they will receive a lump of coal from Krampus instead!

In the Croatian diaspora, it is common for local Croatian Catholic parishes to present¬†a Saint Nicholas luncheon or banquet, with children performing a special Christmas recital for their loved ones.¬† Other traditions ¬†include the sale of ornaments, baked goods and pŇ°enica bowls during these events.

paper bags near wall
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It is quite common for Croatians to bake traditional bake goods during the holidays, specifically Ň°trudla od jabuka (apple strudel), breskvice (peaches), MańĎarica¬† (Hungarian lady) and orahnjańća (walnut roll).¬† My mom’s orahnjańća is my absolute favourite (and I promise to share her recipe and test it out again!) and is great with coffee in the morning.

The Feast of Saint Lucy – Blagdan Svete Lucije
Another special ¬†Croatian tradition is the planting of wheat (pŇ°enica) in commemoration of the feast of Saint Lucy.¬† The planting of wheat during the Christmas season symbolizes new life.¬†¬† Once the wheat has grown, most Croatians will tie it together with a red, white and blue ribbon (the colours of the Croatian flag) and/or place a candle in the middle.¬† Typically, this plant is then the main centrepiece for the dinner table on Christmas day.


Christmas Eve – “Badnjak”
I remember the sight of a bakalar (cod fish) ¬†hanging in my parents’ fruit cellar.¬† Its basically a dried-up cod fish used to make a bakalar stu with potatoes.¬† This tradition is specific to Dalmatia as well as parts of Istria.¬† Croatians, like most Catholics in Europe will enjoy a special fish dinner on Christmas Eve.¬† Although fasting on Christmas Eve is not mandated by the Catholic Church, it is a tradition Croatians, and other Europeans, share.¬†¬† One of my fondest memories growing up is my mother and my late uncle cooking this wonderful bakalar stu together.¬†¬† We would then attend midnight mass (polnońáka) together and enjoy Croatian Christmas carols.¬† Following this, we would come home to the smell of sarma (cabbage rolls) and fresh figs.¬†¬† Sometimes, people will get together after midnight mass to celebrate over drinks and music.¬†

gift boxes on brown wooden board
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Christmas Day – “BoŇĺińá “
The big day arrived, it is Christmas day or BoŇĺińá!¬† It is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.¬†¬† If you did not make it to midnight mass, then most Croatians will attend mass on Christmas day.¬† For most Croatians, Christmas day is the day when we get together with close family and friends over¬†a big feast of cabbage rolls, schnitzels and much, much more.¬†¬†¬†On Christmas day, presents are exchanged with loved ones and stories are shared with young ones.

bowls chairs christmas decorations decorations
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The days following Christmas…
The Christmas season does not just end on Christmas.¬† For many Croatians, the Feast of Saint Stephen the Martyr (Blagdan Sv. Stjepana Prvomuńćenika) and the Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist (Blagdan Sveti Ivan Apostol i EvanńĎelist) is celebrated on December 26th and December 27th, respectively.¬† If your name is a variant of Stephen or John, traditionally, a celebration would be held in your honour of your name-sake day (or imendan).¬† I like to call it Christmas day parts 2 and 3.

The Christmas season traditionally ends on January 6th – the feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day, to commemorate the day when the Three Wise Kings visited baby Jesus.