Christmas in Croatia
Posted on December 31, 2009 at 12:09am Madrid / 6:09pm Cincinnati by Kelly Larbes
This was probably the most relaxing Christmas I’ve ever had. Christmas Eve we got dressed up, went into town, had lunch with our friend, Paula, and walked around enjoying the decorations and carolers. We came upon a group of guys singing Silent Night (in Croatian) a cappella. They had beautiful voices and the small alleyway seemed to magnify their voices. In the evening we Skyped with Jay’s family (it was noontime in Cincinnati) and got to see all of their gifts. And we Skyped with my Mom’s entire extended side of the family. It was a fun and hectic call – lots of noise with little children excited to see themselves on camera. The rest of the evening we watched movies and made chocolate caramel toffee crackers – yum!
Christmas Day weather was beautiful and 65°F, so I went for a run and spent the day making “just chicken” chicken pot pie from scratch and listening to Christmas music. I missed having the Pillsbury ready-made dough. Jay helped though by cubing all of the vegetable shortening and grating the margarine and washing off the wine bottle after we used it to roll out the dough. The wine bottle surprisingly made an excellent rolling pin. The just chicken pot pie cooked to perfection and it was so big that it lasted us for three meals. In the evening we watched more movies and Skyped with my family. They gathered all of their presents from under the tree and opened them in front of the computer. And later we Skyped with my Dad’s side of the family. It was great getting to see so much of our family; we just wish we could’ve seen them in person.
People celebrating Christmas in Croatia follow many of the same traditions we did at home, such as family gathering, Christmas trees, lights, and presents. We’ve found a few interesting differences though:
- Christmas festivities seem to start later here than in the United States, though that is probably because it starts earlier every year back home in Cincinnati. Store displays, decorations, trees, and lights all slowly roll out throughout December. One of the first Christmas lights we saw displayed was Homer Simpson alone on the side of an apartment building. It remained one of Jay’s favorites through the month. Many families don’t even set up their trees until Christmas Eve. And Maja told me that they never water their trees. The trees here always make me chuckle a bit because they remind me of Charlie Brown Christmas trees. The climate here isn’t ideal for growing tall, full, fat Christmas trees like we’re used to back at home.
- Saint Nicholas (Sveti Nicola) is more celebrated than Santa Claus. I didn’t see a guy dressed up in a Santa suit once. Saint Nicholas brings treats to kids who leave out their shoes on December 6. Our friends, Cindy and Joel, have a son, Ethan, in kindergarden who was very excited about Saint Nicholas this year after learning about him in school. He decided he wanted a Playstation from Saint Nicholas instead of candy like all the other kids would get. Cindy told him that she couldn’t do anything about it and he would have to take that up with Saint Nicholas. Ethan didn’t know what to do since Saint Nicholas would only come if he was asleep, so he decided candy would have to do. He was very concerned that he might not get anything at all because Cindy didn’t clean his shoes spotless and his teacher had told him that was important. Cindy assured him they were clean enough. He was very excited when he woke up to find that Saint Nicholas had left him treats and a letter wishing him Merry Christmas in his school notebook.
- Boxing Day on December 26 and the Epiphany on January 6 are also celebrated as national holidays. The Epiphany commemorates the wise men bringing gifts to Jesus and the twelve days of Christmas. It always felt like nothing gets done at work in the United States between Christmas and New Years, but here it is even better. Nothing gets done between Christmas and the Epiphany. Europeans are great at stretching out their holidays.
- Most Croatians don’t eat meat on Fridays during Advent or on Christmas Eve. About 90% of Croatians are Roman Catholic, so I wasn’t surprised that they don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent because that is a common practice by Catholics in the United States. Not eating meat during Advent or on Christmas Eve was new to me. I always picture Christmas Eve with a big juicy ham (even though I’d prefer pizza). On Christmas Eve, families here share the traditional meal of Bakala, a mixture of cod, mashed potatoes, garlic and olive oil. The restaurants also serve this traditional meal. Paula ordered it and let us have a sample. Jay and I both tried it but weren’t big fans. We ordered meat lasagna. The waiter raised his eyebrows and said he would have to ask the kitchen if this was possible. Luckily it was because it was delicious.
- Fritule and mulled wine are two popular Croatian Christmas treats enjoyed all of December. Fritule are like fried donut holes dusted with powdered sugar, so clearly they are wonderful (though not wonderful for our waistline). These were sold at some of the little Christmas shops that popped up along the Riva selling gifts, treats, and decorations. It is probably for the best that they are already packed up.