Croatia: A Sylvester’s Day Tradition

Pope Sylvester I

Pope Sylvester I

While to many in the world New Year’s Eve, is New Year’s Eve; to Croats it is Sylvester’s Day (“Silvestrovo”) – the feast day of St Sylvester (Pope Sylvester I, 314-335 A.D.); a Thanksgiving day. In fact, in Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland and Slovenia, New Years Eve is still referred to as Silvester.

Pope Sylvester I is not as well known as many other Popes but Christians owe a great deal to give thanks to him. His Papacy is of special importance because it was during Sylvester I’s papacy that saw the end of terrible and long-standing persecutions of Christians. And so, Sylvester I was that Pope who, after decades of fear and horror, came to a new and a happy beginning.

A very fitting symbolism for 31st December, when we all wish for a happy New Year.

Croatian traditions around New Year have the component of wishing well to others, just like everywhere else I guess. I have chose one such tradition to write about because it is filled with community spirit and fundamental striving for a good and considerate life, something we should keep an eye on and maintain in one form or another.

Unlike the household tables in cities, towns or palaces, from where the rich New Year’s Eve tables originate, the peasant or folk kitchens in mainland Croatia had not traditionally had very celebratory menus. Lunch in villages was a homemade soup with homemade noodles (rezanci), roasted pork meat from the December pig slaughters, blood sausages (krvavice), potato, and sour cabbage.

Chicken meat was never prepared for New Year’s Eve meal because chicken scratch with their feet backwards, which symbolises the folk belief that if chicken was eaten on that day then the whole coming new year would be bad. Pigs dig the ground with forward motion (as do turkeys, geese and ducks) and so pork was the primary meat on peasants’ tables – it meant that the new year would be “progressive” – everything will go forward, towards a better state.

Every household would receive a visitor early on the New Year’s Day (between 5 and 7 a.m.) and that visitor was a “congratulator” or “well-wisher”. Usually congratulators were men. In most cases it was a family relative, cousin or a neighbour. In olden days men from villages used to plan in advance who will go to which home to wish the household a happy New Year. When the well-wisher completed his “task” he would be invited to sit at the table with the whole family he came to visit and to wish them well.  He would then firstly be offered a drink of good, strong homemade grape or plum-brandy (“rakija”) and then food and wine filled the table for all to enjoy together; a specialty at this table was always a platter of cheese-pie cake or “gibanica”.



A New Year’s Day gift giving tradition in Croatian mainland villages can still be found in places. This special tradition consisted of households distributing a special gift to neighbours and family. The gift was called a “Well” (“zdenec”), something like a “hamper” and it usually contained a slice of a turnip, yellow roots, bread and cheese-pie cake/”gibanica”. With such a humble gift the gift givers wished upon “the Well” to supply the gift recipients with adequate quantities of water throughout the new year.

I wish you all an abundance of peace, joy and love in 2014! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)


  1. Happy New Year!

  2. Here’s to Sylvestr I. And to your celebrating. 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on velvetmedia and commented:
    A different perspective on New Year

  4. I like the criteria for selecting the meat for the meal!

  5. Thanks for this info Ina. I knew about the pig and good luck associated with eating pork on New Year’s Day, but the bad luck chicken on New Year’s Eve is definitely news to me. I’m so glad to have read this in time…now, off to put the chicken back in the freezer! Sretna Nova Godina!

    • Happy New Year Kiki! I have a feeling we need to resurrect the good old, forgotten, traditions of our forefathers! Yes, the chicken throw dirt backwards when they dig holes in the ground or simply clear the earth under their feet. Get some pork on the fork! 😀 😀 😀

  6. Jadranka Juresko-Keo says:

    Draga moja prijateljice,
    sve Ti sretno bilo u Novoj! S Tobom je 2013. bila ljepsa godina. Hvala Ti na trudu u promicanju istine o nasoj Domovini! Puno je jos posla pred nama!

    • Translation of Jadranka Juresko-Kero comment: My dear friend, may everything be happy for you in the New Year. With you 2013 was a more beautiful year. Thank you on your efforts to promote the truth about our Homeland! There is a great deal of work still before us! Jadranka

      REPLY: Thank you so very much Jadranka. Your words mean a great deal to me and they feed me with energy. Happy New Year!

  7. Croatia beautiful place! Happy 2014!!

  8. We wish you a happy New Year.

  9. I return your wishes for peace and joy and love. And thank you. 🙂

  10. I really enjoyed this post. It was so descriptive. I want to try some of the food now–yummy!

  11. Happy New Year, Ina. Thank you for another great year of very interesting posts focusing on very important issues that affect Croatia and its people.

  12. Yep, chicken dig dirt backwards, throwing dust behind them and pigs dig forward, push their snout forward – what great symbolism! Thanks for that. Happy New Year!

    • I think that our ancestors were very clever and filled with human warmth. We should renew many old, almost forgotten, traditions I think. Nothing like human closeness and warmth. Happy New Year Woggie.

  13. Happy New Year! Sretna Nova Godina!

  14. Milesfromhere says:

    I love such old-fashioned traditions. They’re full of warm feelings and generosity even among the not-so-rich. Fabulous post. Happy New Year!

  15. Francesco Panetti says:

    Felice Anno Nuovo grande blogger 😀 😀 XX

  16. Happy New Year, Happy New Year!

  17. Roberto in Madrid says:

    And here’s that great Croat football player Luka Modric wishing all Happy New Year from Real Madrid

  18. Mi deseo para que este año sea mucho mejor!
    Un beso Grande!

    • Translation of Ruben Demirjian comment: My wish for this year is to be much better. Big kiss

      REPLY: Thank you Ruben – A better and happier New Year to you too 😀

  19. Happy New Year, hope it’s a great one 🙂

  20. Wishing you a very Happy New Year!

  21. A very interesting blog you have! Happy New Year and all the best in the coming year!

  22. Is there any symbolism to eating the humble Aussie prawns on NYE? 😀 I love the symbolism behind choosing the meat, but I cannot say I have always stuck to the tradition.

    Happy New Year, Ina!

  23. Vladimir Orsag says:

    Happy New Year, Ina. May Almighty give you strength to pursue work, which will eventually be recognized by all Croatians.

    • Thank you Vladimir! Happy New Year to you and your loved ones! Who knows maybe the ex-communists and today’s ones will begin to see the light in 2014 – if not, we continue with the pursuit of the truth and the need for all to embrace responsibility for the past and the future.

  24. Ina, I remember my friends in Sudtirol calling it Sylvester, but I never knew the origin. St. Sylvester! Of course! Hvala vam! 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful year!
    God bless,

  25. Happy New Year, Dear Madam

  26. Sretna Nova Godina Ina..!!

  27. Bonjour Ina! 🙂 mille merci for your kind wishes dropped at my “crossroads”… my very best for 2014: health, joy, love and hope… cheers & friendly thoughts, Mélanie – Toulouse, France, “old Europe”… 🙂

  28. Happy New Year Ina.
    I was very interested to read about Sylvester’s Day.
    In the North of England, where my parents come from, there is a tradition called ‘First Footing’. My dad performed it for my nanna for many years even though the “first footer” is supposed to be dark-haired and his hair is white. The tradition is that the first person through the door on the first of January should be a dark-haired man carrying coal and other symbolic gifts.

    • Isn’t that fabulous, Sarah – in Croatia the well-wishers wished for abundance of water and in North England they carried coal: both essential to life and survival! I had a visitor on 1st January early in the morning who actually said he was the “first footer” and I didn’t know what he meant (his hair is grayish now 😀 ) – funny you should tell me about the “first footer” too; I simply love old traditions – they’re full of meaning and depth of heart. Thank you Sarah!

  29. When I visit your blog I learn something new. That is the best a teacher can hope for and a true gift to the students of life.
    “Jeste Sretna Nova Godina I Mnogo Blagoslov!”

  30. Happy New Year! 🙂

  31. Wishing you a wonderful 2014!! 🙂

  32. Thank you for your visit !
    Happy New Year 2014 !

  33. “HI!” Here’s another star to your award.. . 😉

  34. Thank you for sharing and do have a wonderful and blessed Year 2014, my friend~ Cheers!!! 😀

  35. Very interesing all what you have here.
    Happy New Year!!

  36. I’m a bit late with this but happy new year to you, Ina. That gibanica looks delicious.

  37. gina gerace says:

    happy new year dear Ina…just now read this lovely article of yours, and just now realised ….duuuuuuhhhhh….why Hungarians call it Silvester….my whole life it never occurred to me to find out

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