New Year’s Customs and Traditions in Croatia

Croatia is rich in traditions and customs, including New Year’s ones that differ from region to region, but have the same purpose – to best mark a new beginning.

On New Year’s Eve, some of the Croatian islands, such as Vis and Korčula (which just happens to be the island of my birth), nurture the old custom of “kolenda” (“announcing” or “carolling”). In the late afternoon, children (often with adults) visit the homes of friends and relatives, singing Christmas carols and congratulating the upcoming “young year”. It is customary to first knock on the door of the host and ask if it can be sung, after which the children are entertained and honoured. It is celebrated three times a year: on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and on the eve of the Holy Three Kings (January 6th), and in addition to nurturing tradition, this is a good opportunity for many children for pocket money, because once singers received cakes or fruit, today they are usually rewarded with money. When only adults come to sing Kolenda then the host offers a feast of cakes, cold-cuts and drinks (wine and spirits).

Please enjoy this version of Kolenda singing on the island of Korcula, Croatia:

New Year’s Eve Kolenda lyrics from the island of Korcula, Croatia:

We have come to announce to you the young year, merry day,

He who has, let him clean, and he who has not, let him think.

Those pig’s legs left over from Christmas,

better give them to us than have a cat steal them.

In front of your house is a green pine tree, behind it a black horse tied,

and on it the birds, rejoice, little girls.

Oh, you servant of the chimney, is your master in the house,

give us dried fruit, to bite on until midnight.

By the time we got to this house, we tore a pair of shoes,

as we reached these steps, we wore out a couple of soles.

To the master in front of the house, let us sing, brothers, until dawn.

On the first morning of the new year, the family would wash themselves in a basin of clean water with an apple in which a coin would be placed, symbolising health and wealth. Among the congratulators, a man had to enter the house first, followed by a women.

On the first day of the year, special attention was paid to behaviour. The Bunjevac Croats in Bačka believed that a person would be as he/she was that day all year round, so everything around the house was tidy and peaceful. People also did not lend money to anyone on that day, so that there would be no shortage of it throughout the year for the family, and it was obligatory to lash the ground around the home with a whip so that the noise would drive away the spirits of the ancestors who have been living among the household since Christmas Eve. But some customs are hard to follow these days of economic hardships but, nevertheless, and old Croatian New Year’s custom says that the new year should not be entered into with debts; that debts must all be settled by New Year’s Eve at the latest.

Another custom and belief that is difficult to fulfill for many these days dictates that you fill your wallets with cash money. If you manage to do this, even with borrowed money, you will be quite happy financially in the new year.

Special attention was paid to the New Year’s table, which is a tradition that has remained to this day. The New Year’s table was a reflection of fertility and well-being. In some parts of Croatia, it was believed that chicken or chicken should not be prepared for lunch because the poultry disperse the soil in the garden around them backwards, away from them. Neither a rabbit nor a fish was prepared so that happiness would not escape like a frightened rabbit, or swim away like a fish.

It was desirable to save the pork because the pig digs forward with its snout, so the family will progress throughout the year and gain prosperity. Lentils that symbolised money was also desirable: as many lentils as there were coins; while avoiding anything sour so that the new year would not taste the same – sour. a cake was made for dessert, so that the New Year would grow like raised dough.

One custom, which is popular even today, both in Croatia and in some other European countries (e.g., Italy), is to wear red underwear at the transition from the old to the new year, because it brings good luck.

On that day, even the hair was to be washed so that one would not have headaches throughout the year, and if one’s laundry was hanging out to dry on that day people made sure they took it down by the evening of New Year’s Eve so that the cattle would not die and one would have a fertile year.

Wishing you all a Happy and Healthy New Year 2021 with a Croatian traditional gingerbread Licitar heart, which is always given with love!

I have been blessed with your support and care all year round and for that I am grateful beyond words. God bless and thank you for visiting me here on this blogsite! Ina Vukic

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.
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

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

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.


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)

Christmas for Croatia

A Reuters news article of a couple of days ago carried the title: ”Croat’s Christmas now comes with a million lights”.

In this season when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ the “million lights” touches the heart deeply – especially for Croatians whose Christmases have more often than not been in darkness for almost sixty years.

On Christmas Eve 1989, just weeks after the Berlin Wall came down, something  that had been unthinkable for decades happened in Croatia.

The Communist government expressed Christmas greetings to the citizens, but Christmas Day remained a working day.

From the end of WWII to 1952 in Croatia (Yugoslavia) Christmas was only mentioned quietly and then strict prohibition of any public mention of Christmas was introduced by the Communists. But tradition could not be completely eradicated – many families celebrated Christmas in the privacy of their own homes, in churches, but not without surveillance by disguised police agents though!

In 1989 Croatian TV broadcasted a mass from Zagreb Cathedral and that caused a real anger among the Communists.

It was the 1990 dawn of democracy that brought the long denial of freedom of religious expression to a stop. (HTV news 1989, in Croatian language)

It is said that Christmas among Christians is a time for giving.

Christmas of 1991 in Croatia saw thousands wounded. Hundreds killed, hundreds of thousands Croatian displaced from their homes by Serbian aggression.

Dubrovnik December 1991

By Christmas 1992 Croatia itself bled; it had very little to give and yet it found the strength and the heart to take hundreds of thousands of refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A humanitarian crisis had occurred and Croatia played a crucial role in managing it.

Systematic application of specially devised methods of ethnic cleansing by the Serbian aggressor and warfare, created this humanitarian crisis.

“The features of ethnic cleansing that resulted in the humanitarian crisis were as follows:

  • the creation of huge populations of displaced persons and refugees;
  • pervasive and terrifying effects on the population of non-combatants caused by indiscriminate shelling of civilian targets and similar abuses of military power (including maliciously planted land-mines and booby traps);
  • extrajudicial and arbitrary executions of innocent persons or helpless detainees; summary executions and massacres of unarmed civilians;
  • systematic, widespread, and ethnically motivated rapes;
  • deliberate obstruction of humanitarian corridors for endangered civilian populations; the creation of a number of ad hoc prisons and concentration camps;
  • systematic torture of detained civilians and prisoners of war;
  • and the wanton destruction and plundering of civilian property.

At the beginning, the humanitarian crisis was concentrated in the areas marked for ethnic cleansing within the framework of creating a “Greater Serbia” (such regions as “Krajina” in Croatia and “Republika Srpska” in Bosnia and Herzegovina), but its effects soon flooded the whole region.

The humanitarian and refugee crisis thus created was the largest in Europe since the World War II.

Croatian authorities and institutions were already fully and effectively involved in coping with crises in 1992, i.e., significantly before the international community managed to develop and introduce workable solutions and mechanisms (such as the creation of “safe heavens,” humanitarian corridors, extensive monitoring, and the continuous presence of UN forces and NGOs).

The first phase of the humanitarian crisis – the first wave of refugees and other consequences of ethnic cleansing:

In April 1992, the first waves of refugees from Bosnian cities arrived in Croatia. At that time, Croatia already had 330.000 of its own displaced persons settled in state-organized and private housing. The Croatian authorities and nation were already stretched to the limit in their efforts to secure the food and accommodation, health care, and social care for those displaced persons, as well as to preventing the collapse of the national economy and complete disorder in the social system.

In March 1992, the number of Bosnian refugees settled in Croatia was 16,579; in April 1992 it reached 193,415, in August 1992, it escalated to 363,270, and in December 1992, it peaked at 402,768.

663,493 refugees and displaced persons on December 1, 1992, compared to the four and half million total Croatian population!”

 (The Role of Croatia in the Management of the Humanitarian Crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ivica Kostović, Neven Henigsberg and Miloš Judaš, Center for Crisis Management, School of Medicine University of Zagreb, Zagreb, Republic of Croatia, 2000)

In 1992, the Yugoslav Army and Serbian paramilitary forces used in Bosnia and Herzegovina the same methods of ethnic cleansing they used in 1991 in Croatia.

But, in spite of Serbian aggression and war-related destruction within itself, Croatia spent the Christmas of 1992 helping, nursing, feeding and sheltering hundreds of thousands of Bosnian refugees without international government help (except for Germany) for taking in refugees.

Of course, the tremendously humanitarian Croatian émigrés living on all continents of the world fundraised tirelessly, sent food, medicine, clothes, money.

War wounded attend mass on Christmas Day 1992 at Dubrava Hospital, Zagreb

During 1992 Croatian musician/singer Marko Perkovic Thompson recorded a song called “Moli mala” (Pray Little One) that reflects the plight of Croatian people at the time and the song was sung alongside Christmas carols. The lyrics translated into English are:

Our Croatia suffers in devastation,

our soil, mother of all Croats,

they trample, demolish and burn our homes,

red grenades sow our death,

frightened is your little heart,

teary is your little face,

as I count the bandit’s last days,
I know my dear that you pray for me.
Pray little one, pray my dear for me,
God and mother love us Croatians,
they want us in this beautiful world,
in free Croatia to live.

We will chase them away with might,
bring peaceful sleep to our homeland,

they’ll run and curse the mother,
for even coming to our Croatia,
they can’t do anything to us,
with strength we will forever remain,
in Croatia create freedom,
for the whole of our Croatian nation.

Pray little one, pray my dear for me,
God and mother love us Croatians,
they want us in this beautiful world,
in free Croatia to live.

in free Croatia to live,

in free Croatia to live

A million lights for Christmas in Croatia 2011 – let some shine upon the Hague, upon Generals Gotovina and Markac, who despite the conviction for war crimes now on Appeal, have saved many tens of thousands of lives especially in 1995 when the town of Bihac (Bosnia and Hercegovina) was threatened to extinction by the Serbian aggression.

I’ll conclude this post with a traditional, ages old, Croatian Christmas carol and well wishes to all! (lyrics translated into English):

Rejoice the nations,

Jesus is born at a blessed moment,

All nations hear, hear,

and to Bethlehem approach,


All nations hear, hear,

and to Bethlehem approach,


See God’s sacrament in the ragged stable,

and who suffers prickling of that hard straw,

that sacrament hear, hear

and to manger approach!

Maria with Joseph rejoice watching,

the Angel flying above sings “Gloria”

and you the whole World,

greet the Saviour!


ŠOKCI ZA PET Radujte se narodi (Croatian Christmas Carol Rejoice, the Nations) ~ Live performance by Sokci children musical group, 2010.

A Croatian Licitar Heart for Christmas

Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb), B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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