Croatian New Year’s Day: Some Traditions, Beliefs and Superstitions

Gingerbread, a colourfully decorated confection traditionally produced in northern Croatia, usually in the shape of a heart. LICITAR HEART. Gingerbread-makers also make mead and beeswax products. Their craft is inscribed in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Gingerbread, a colourfully decorated confection
traditionally produced in northern Croatia,
usually in the shape of a heart.
LICITAR HEART.
Gingerbread-makers
also make mead and beeswax products.
Their craft is inscribed in
the UNESCO List of
Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Traditions told us in Croatia that whatever one did on New Year’s Day he/she will do that all year round. Hence, both adults and children behaved well on that day. When I was young I was told not to work hard or do any heavy work on New Year’s Day because if I did I’d be working hard all year. One wouldn’t want that, would one? In olden times in Croatia everyone was told to be good and honest on New Year’s Day and if one got drunk on that day he/she would drink all year! That traditional advice was passed down from generation to generation.

Bunjevci Croats in Backa especially tend to these traditions: on New Year’s Day everything must be neat and quiet and people well behaved. The belief prevails that a person will be all year as he/she was on the first day of the year. On that day men don’t bowl or play cards; children try to be good; money is not given away from home on that day and women do not do any hard work such as scrub floors, do the laundry etc. Everyone is happy on that day.
Whip cracking, making loud and lots of noises with rattles or anything else in order to banish evil spirits.
Wider traditional belief is that what one does on New Year’s Day he/she will see repeated all year round. So, in many places in Croatia, in accordance with this traditional belief, people will get up early in the morning, eat a rich meal, be happy and avoid quarrels with others. If the person one met first on that day was a male – that meant luck! Similarly, it is quite frequent at New Year’s party to see a female making sure the first person she kisses at midnight (in New Year) is a male, otherwise – bad luck all year will follow.
In some parts of Croatia it’s traditionally believed that some types of food bring particular fertility and rich harvest. A whole bread loaf is laid on the table, pork is particularly advisable as meat because the pig digs the soil in forward motion – dig up heaps of good luck. 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. Rabbits are also not to be eaten on New Year’s Day because rabbits run forward and they take the luck away from the house; fish are not to be eaten on that day either because all prosperity floats/swims away from the house like the fish.

Other popular beliefs include sneezing first thing in the morning on New Year’s Day before eating breakfast is a good sign – whichever gender of person who sneezed that will be the gender of new livestock. Need to spit on any money received on that day and mustn’t leave the house empty or unattended. Money was especially guarded on that day because it’s believed that as one spent money on that day do the money would be spent all year. Entering the New Year with debts means one will owe money all year.
Rubbish wasn’t taken out of the house between Christmas and New Year, not even the breadcrumbs left on tablecloth because it was believed that luck would get out as well. Homes not to be swept during this time so not to disturb the souls of the ancestors that may have lived among their family during the twelve days passed. If the washing is hanging on a rope to dry it must be taken down before New Year’s Day otherwise traditional beliefs told that livestock would die and its skin hang on ropes in similar way.

It’s good fortune if the first person walking into a home on New Year’s Day is a male and if a female walks in first that signifies bad luck.

Croatian jam doughnuts KRAFNE

Croatian jam doughnuts
KRAFNE

Washing face on New Year’s Day in clean water into which one placed an apple with a coin inside it meant that one would be healthy and wealthy all year.
Making doughnuts on New Year’s Day was a must as that signified that the year ahead would rise just like a cake so too will fortune. Continental parts of Croatia traditionally make large jam doughnuts – KRAFNE – while the Dalmatian region make smaller sultana doughnuts – FRITULE or PRIKLE.

Croatian sultana doughnuts FRITULE or PRIKLE

Croatian sultana doughnuts
FRITULE or PRIKLE

In summary:

New Year’s Eve dinner is often accompanied by the saying: As you meet the new year, so will the rest of it be. Entering the new year symbolizes the renewal of life and a new beginning, so always close attention was paid in Croatia to rituals associated with the beginning of a new era. Traditions differ from country to country, but most have the same goals: to drive away evil spirits and bring health and happiness. In different regions, especially in rural areas, the Croats have a number of small ceremonies which seek to better mark a new beginning, and some of the rituals and still followed to this day.

“Heralding”

On the night before the New Year’s Day some of the Croatian islands, such as Vis and Korcula cherished old custom “heralding” or “carolling.” In the late afternoon the children in small small groups go to the houses of friends and relatives, and they sing carols or special songs and congratulate the upcoming “young year.” It is customary to first knock on the door and the host asks whether they can sing, after which the children are treated with sweets. These days children receive money as reward for their heralding, as well.

 

Daily rituals

Calling, beckoning for happiness was the most important thing for a houisehold on the first morning of New Year. Wash face in a basin of clean water with an apple in which a coin is inserted – for health and wealth all year round. The first well-wisher to enter the house must be a male otherwise bad luck will follow all year round; is several places today it’s not unusual to see young boys go from house to house wishing a happy new year to the households. Also it is important who you see on that day, because the holder is that you will be so healthy the whole year, as the one you saw in the new year for the first time.

On the first day of the year special attention was paid to the behavior. Bunjevac Croats in Backa believed that a person would be the whole year the way he/she was on New Year’s Day. So good behaviour, cleanliness and happiness; no one borrowed money on New Year’s Day to steer away debt; cracking whips, making loud noises to keep bad ghosts away as well as to help the ghosts of ancestors who had been among the household over the twelve days leave the household.

Watch what you eat on New Year’s Day

New Year’s table was a reflection of fertility and prosperity, and associated with belief a great deal of care was taken about which dishes to serve. Pork definitely for they signify accumulation of wealth; chicken, rabbit or fish not to be served on New Year’s day for they signify dispersion of wealth or loss of it. Lentils you can have on that day as lentils symbolise coins – the more lentils you eat the more money you will have in the year. Avoid sour foods on New Year’s Day for you risk a sour new year ahead. Doughnuts, definitely, for the New Year will surely keep rising just like a cake dough.

Tradition says you would do best to eat pork on New Year's Day If vegetarian then - lentils

Croatian tradition says you
would do best to eat
pork on New Year’s Day
If vegetarian then – lentils

Do not take the rubbish out

No rubbish or garbage to be taken out of home between Christmas and New Year – doing so is believed to take good luck/ good fortune out of the home. Similarly, sweeping the home not recommended by tradition in this period so as not to disturb the souls of the family ancestors who may have visited the home and stayed there during the twelve days.

Happy New Year everyone! Sretna Nova Godina svima! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia – Tradition Of Flower Or Palm Sunday

Last Sunday, April 13th, was Palm Sunday and Catholic Croatians call it Flower Sunday.

On Palm Sunday Christians celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, the week before his death and resurrection. For many Christian churches, Palm Sunday, often referred to as “Passion Sunday,” marks the beginning of Holy Week, which concludes on Easter Sunday. In Croatia Palm Sunday is called “Flower Sunday” (Cvjetna Nedjelja or Cvijećnica).

It is a day for the blessing of flowers, olive, palm and other branches during all Masses in the church and signifies the announcement of the Gospel that talks about Jesus’ festive entry into Jerusalem. It’s a Croatian tradition to take the small branches, or a piece of a larger one, home and place it on the crucifix that usually hangs on the wall, or tuck it into the frame of a picture of a Saint in the home, while other pieces are taken to the stables and into the fields.

But beside these religious traditions connected with the Catholic Church Croatians have an ancient tradition of washing their face and hands and arms (especially the children) on Palm Sunday morning in water with fresh flowers in it. The tradition also includes wishing well, success and all good intentions for the coming year to one’s own life, family’s, friends’, neighbours and all those that are close. Hence, the name: Flower or Floral Sunday.

The Bible reveals that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds greeted him by waving palm branches and covering his path with palm branches. Immediately following this great time of celebration in the ministry of Jesus, he begins his journey of the Cross.
The biblical account of Palm Sunday can be found in Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; and John 12:12-19

 

Here are some photographs from this year’s Palm Sunday in Croatia and community abroad. Click on photos to enlarge.

Palm Sunday 2014 Ostarije, Croatia Photo: Josip Anusic

Palm Sunday 2014
Ostarije, Croatia
Photo: Josip Anusic

 

Palm Sunday Ostarije, Croatia Photo: Josip Anusic

Palm Sunday Ostarije, Croatia
Photo: Josip Anusic

 

Palm Sunday 2014 Ostarije, Croatia Photo: Josip Anusic

Palm Sunday 2014 Ostarije, Croatia
Photo: Josip Anusic

 

Palm Sunday 2014 Zagreb Croatia

Palm Sunday 2014 Zagreb Croatia

 

Palm Sunday 2014 Zagreb Croatia

Palm Sunday 2014 Zagreb Croatia

 

Palm Sunday 2014 Sibenik Croatia

Palm Sunday 2014 Sibenik Croatia

 

Palm Sunday 2014 Dubrovnik Croatia Photo: Zeljko Tutnjevic

Palm Sunday 2014 Dubrovnik Croatia
Photo: Zeljko Tutnjevic

 

Palm Sunday 2014 Dubrovnik, Croatia Photo: Zeljko Tutnjevic

Palm Sunday 2014 Dubrovnik, Croatia
Photo: Zeljko Tutnjevic

 

Palm Sunday 2014 Zagreb, Croatia

Palm Sunday 2014 Zagreb, Croatia

 

Palm Sunday 2014 Zagreb, Croatia

Palm Sunday 2014 Zagreb, Croatia

 

Palm Sunday 2014 Croatia - A Day of Hope

Palm Sunday 2014 Croatia – A Day of Hope

 

Palm Sunday 2014 Croatia - Flower water basin

Palm Sunday 2014 Croatia – Flower water basin

 

Palm Sunday 2014, Pucisce, Island of Brac, Croatia

Palm Sunday 2014, Pucisce, Island of Brac, Croatia

 

Palm Sunday 2014 Croatia - Flower water basin Photo: Domacica

Palm Sunday 2014 Croatia – Flower water basin
Photo: Domacica

 

Palm Sunday 2014 Cakovec, Croatia

Palm Sunday 2014 Cakovec, Croatia

 

Palm Sunday 2014 - Croatian church Sydney, Australia Photo: Boka Cropress

Palm Sunday 2014 – Croatian church Sydney, Australia
Photo: Boka Cropress

 

Palm Sunday 2014 - Croatian church Sydney, Australia Photo: Boka Cropress

Palm Sunday 2014 – Croatian church Sydney, Australia
Photo: Boka Cropress

 

Palm Sunday 2014 - Croatian church, Sydney Australia Photo: Boka Cropress

Palm Sunday 2014 – Croatian church, Sydney Australia
Photo: Boka Cropress

 

 

Croatia: Epiphany, Red Wine And Taking Down Of Christmas Tree Tradition

Adoration of the Magic Corrado Giaquinto cca 1725 Photo credit: www.corrado-giaquinto.org

Adoration of the Magic
Corrado Giaquinto cca 1725
Photo credit: http://www.corrado-giaquinto.org

The Christmas season ends today, January 6; it’s the Twelfth Day, it’s Epiphany, it’s the Feast of Three Kings – and it’s a Public Holiday in Croatia! All the more reason why most will not be missing out on red wine – for healthier blood!

Beside this day being the day when Christmas trees are taken down and decorations packed away for another year old Croatian traditions for this holy day are such a treat, especially to those who still practice them.

The Feast of Three Kings in Croatia has, through the ages, been characterised by: the blessing of water, sprinkling with blessed water, verbal lyric songs (both religious and worldly), visitations by masked “starmen” (Zvjezdari) and singers (Koledari), blessing of homes and apotropaic rituals (to ward off evil).

THE BLESSING OF WATER

It was obligatory for a Croatian Christian family to have a container of blessed (holy) water in the home, which has been dedicated to blessing at the church or in front of the church on the eve of Epiphany.  Today, this water is still referred to as baptised or holy water in Croatia.

While the Catholics in Croatia blessed their water in the church; the priest would drop some blessed salt (which the people had brought there for blessing) into the water, make a sign of the cross over the container with water and drop a crucifix into the water for a few moments accompanied by prayer. The Orthodox Christians, led by a priest who held a cross, formed a procession and went to the nearest river or stream or a well, where they would set up a table upon which the blessing of water ritual was held.

Croatia - Blessing of water and salt 2012 Photo: zupa-marina.hr

Croatia – Blessing of water and salt 2012
Photo: zupa-marina.hr

For the sweet tooth – “Fritule” (doughnut balls with Sultanas) were/are the culinary delight of the day in Dalmatian region.

Croatian Fritule Photo:www.slatkirecepti.com

Croatian Fritule
Photo:www.slatkirecepti.com

SPRINKLING WITH HOLY WATER

The sprinkling (using an olive tree or oak or fir tree small branch cutting) of homes, livestock, barns, fields, vineyards, beehives etc., with holy water occurred on the eve or on the very day of Epiphany. It was usual for the man of the house to sprinkle the livestock while the lady of the house sprinkled the garden, and outside the home… So, before sunup on the Feast of Three Kings the landlord would, praying, sprinkle with holy water his livestock and his wife, in the same manner, would sprinkle the garden and house surrounds. At about eight or nine in the morning it was time for late-breakfast (Zajutrak), which usually consisted of meat (from either head or shoulder part of the animal) and a half of “pita bread” (Pogača). Crumbs from the serving of this meal would be fed to the livestock, and the shoulder bone or head bones were laid down on the soil among the fruit trees (e.g. plum trees). In the afternoon, the man of the house went about sprinkling of fields, vineyards, beehives… In some parts of Croatia women kept the blessed water for years, topping it up each year as it was used, in the belief that the older the water was the more effective it was in warding off demonic beings: witches, werewolves…

Croatian Christmas season "Pogača" "Pitabread"

Croatian Christmas season “Pogača”
“Pitabread”

STARMEN – SONGS

A frequent tradition associated with the Feast of Three Kings was in visiting of homes by “Starmen” (Zvjezdari) – three boys dressed as Kings, carrying a bright star in their hands and signing church hymns or other songs with which they invite the material and spiritual good for the household they visit.  Giving of gifts to the “Starmen” was associated with this tradition also.

Croatian Zvjezdari - "Starmen" - get ready to wish well for the Feast Day of Three Kings/Epiphany Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Croatian Zvjezdari – “Starmen” – get ready to wish well
for the Feast Day of Three Kings/Epiphany
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

BLESSING OF HOMES

After the sprinkling with holy water of the garden, livestock, fields… had been completed a priest, with his ministrants, would visit the home to bless it; he used a holy water sprinkler.  Up until 1980’s the priest would, above the top of the main house door, from inside, mark his blessing by writing in white chalk the letters “G + M + B (the first letters of the names of the Three Kings/ Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar) as well as the number of the new year.  In recent times, priests instead of chalk markings often use stickers.

Blessing of home on Epiphany in Croatia 2013 Photo: www.novska.hr

Blessing of home on Epiphany in Croatia 2013
Photo: http://www.novska.hr

APOTROPAIC RITUALS

Water is a magical source of power. In Christianity, water symbolises washing, cleansing and innocence. Slavonians (in Croatia) and other Slavonic people had the tradition of the ritual of swimming in a nearby river on the eve of Epiphany. It was believed that those who had swum would not suffer from Scabies in the coming year. Also, it was believed, that this was the best way of preventing the plague. Those who did not swim went and washed themselves in the nearby river.

On the day of the Three Kings people took coal, ash and unburned logs from Christmas period from their fireplaces and left them in their vineyard, fruit plantation or olive groves … this was meant to protect against bad weather and to bring about a good harvest. In some parts of Croatia this was also done to the sheds and barns with livestock – to protect them against diseases.

Croatia - Swimming in river for Epiphany 2013 Reviving Epiphany traditions in River Sava, Zagreb Photo: hrt.hr

Croatia – Swimming in river for Epiphany 2013
Reviving Epiphany traditions in River Sava, Zagreb
Photo: hrt.hr

So while these traditions are likely to be practiced in several rural areas of Croatia and perhaps in some towns – especially the singing part at peoples’ doorstep – all (except those who have forgotten tradition) will be taking their Christmas tree down today and most Croats will, for sure, practice the good old tradition of a rich feast, after the fasting, and chasing it down with some good red wine – for healthy blood and healthy blood flow! Cheers! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia 2014: Live Nativity Scene with the Three Kings Each King brought baby Jesus one gift:  Gold – in recognition of His Majestic Honour;  Frankincense – for the glory of His Heavenly nature and  Myrrh – because they believed that He was a man and  that He will die for the sins of the people.  Photo: glasistre.hr

Croatia 2014: Live Nativity Scene with the Three Kings
Each King brought baby Jesus one gift:
Gold – in recognition of His Majestic Honour;
Frankincense – for the glory of His Heavenly nature and
Myrrh – because they believed that He was a man and
that He will die for the sins of the people.
Photo: glasistre.hr

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