Christmas in Croatia (Eastern Europe)
Updated: Jan 21
A Brief History
The origins and history of the Croatian people is a complicated one. At the end of the 6th century AD, historians believe that Croat tribes immigrated to the area now known as Croatia. Christianity had already arrived in the area during Roman times. Most of Croatia fell under Ottoman rule during the 15th and 16th century. After liberation from the Ottoman empire in 1878, Austria-Hungary took power. For political reasons the newly liberated areas didn't want to be included in the Croatian state, so Bosnia and Herzegovina remained separate from Croatia.
In 1914, WWI was initiated by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by a Serbian-nationalist terrorist group called the Black Hand. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Then, due to a mutual defense alliance (MDA) between Russia and Serbia, Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary. Since Germany had an MDA with Austria-Hungary, Germany declared war on Russia. France's MDA with Russia drew them in next. Germany attacked France through Belgium. Since both countries had an MDA with Britain, Britain was pulled into the war. Eventually, Italy and the US joined the Allies.
At the end of WWI, Yugoslavia was forced into existence as the kingdom of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. This state was created by the Superpowers of the time. Croatian people lived in the newly formed country with great difficulty, and the politician who fought for their interests was assassinated at a meeting in Belgrade in 1928. In 1929, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was established. Despite being one of the Allies during WWII, Yugoslavia was handed over to communist rule.
During the Communist period, religion was outlawed. The only celebration was that of a secular Santa Claus, Djed Mraz. Those who chose to celebrate Christmas or any Christian rites, did so secretly. The period from 1935-1955 was a time of significant church and religious persecution. However, during the 1980s through 1990s, Croats began experiencing a lessening of governmental religious controls.
The Croatian War of Independence-- sometimes referred to as the Serbo-Croatian War--lasted from 1991 to 1995. The war was fought to gain independence from Yugoslavia. Now that the Republic of Croatia is an independent country, Christmas is celebrated openly again.
Since more than 85% of Croats are Catholic, an Advent wreath is a usual part of the Christmas celebration. They will be seen in every church, most homes and even in schools and hotel lobbies. St. Nicholas brings gifts on Saint Nicholas Day-- December 6th. On the eve of St. Nicholas Day, children polish their boots and place them on the windowsill to be filled with treats. Krampus, who accompanies St. Nicholas, leaves golden twigs for naughty children.
Another Croatian Christmas tradition is 'Christmas Wheat.' On December 13th, Roman Catholics celebrate the feast day of St. Lucia. Since most Croats are Catholic, this is the day that they will plant their Christmas Wheat. This involves planting a handful of wheat seeds in a bowl or plate and allowing it to grow until Christmas. The wheat symbolizes 'the new bread' which Catholics link to the sacrament of the Eucharist.
It is believed that the height of the wheat by Christmas is indicative of the success and luck the family will have in the new year. Some families use the wheat to decorate the table or under the tree. Once the season ends, the wheat is not thrown out, but given to the birds. Some families will plant their wheat on St. Barbara's Day (December 4), which allows even more time for the wheat (and thereby success!) to grow.
On Christmas Eve, called Badnjak, people attend church and fast from meat, so traditionally fish is eaten. The most common fish eaten is codfish. On Christmas morning, gifts are opened and people go to mass to hear Christmas concerts.Traditional Christmas dishes are sarma (stuffed cabbage), suckling pig, turkey with noodles, poppy seed roll, fritters and fresh bread. Desserts vary, but fig cake and vanilla crescents are usually served. Christmas festivities officially end on Epiphany. ‘Sretan Bozic’ is Merry Christmas in Croatian.
The Republic of Croatia is a gateway to Eastern Europe. Bordered by Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, and Slovenia, it lies along the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea.
Pray for lasting reconciliation among Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats after centuries-long rivalries and hatred towards one another. Pray for the body of Christ to unite across denominational lines to impact a traumatized society. Pray for spiritual breakthroughs among a large population of drug addicts who are in desperate need of hope.