As a Catholic country, Croatia celebrates Christmas on 25 December, but for most Croatians, the preparations start a month earlier on 25 November (St Catherine’s day) or at the beginning of Advent. Besides being religious, Croatians are also hedonists who know how to enjoy life. We are a race of friendly people who like to gather family and friends for a good meal, with a glass of fine wine, followed by good music.
During Christmas in Croatia, that’s our favourite thing to do. Of course, depending on where you go in Croatia, there is a possibility of encountering slightly different customs depending on the region. But, in general, it’s the same, more or less. Here’s a list of customs practised in Croatia during the Christmas period.
- Christmas In Croatia
- Top 3 Tours
- 20 Ways To Celebrate Christmas In Croatia
- 1- Celebrate St. Catherine’s Day in Selce
- 2- Make An Advent Wreath
- 3- Sow Wheat On St. Barbara’s Day In Zagorje
- 4- Hang A Sock At The Window On St. Nicholas’s Day
- 5- St. Lucy’s Day
- 6- Christmas Wheat
- 7- Badnjak (Christmas Eve)
- 8- Taste Cod With Potatoes
- 9- Celebrate Christmas Day
- 10- Štefanje (St. Stephen’s Day)
- 11- Epiphany
- 12- The Christmas Table
- 13- Christmas Desserts
- 14- Christmas Markets
- 15- Explore Adventura In Šibenik
- 16- Go On A Christmas Markets Crawl In Zagreb
- 17- Climb Sljeme Mountain
- 18- Christmas Magic in Plitvička Jezera
- 19- Silvestrovo or New Year’s Eve
- 20- Watch The Nutcracker At The Croatian National Theater
Christmas In Croatia
Top 3 Tours
- Zagreb Magical Christmas Tour – Experience the magic of Christmas in Croatia’s capital on this private tour of festivities and markets.
- Split Magical Christmas Tour – Experience the enchantment of Christmastime in Split on this private tour.
- Zadar Magical Christmas Tour – Discover why Zadar is a magical place to visit in Croatia at Christmas.
20 Ways To Celebrate Christmas In Croatia
1- Celebrate St. Catherine’s Day in Selce
St. Catherine’s Day is celebrated on 25 November, which marks the beginning of the Christmas period for some.
For the people of Selce, it represents the festivity of their patron saint.
St. Catherine of Alexandria is a patron of philosophers, theologians, teachers, and defenders of the faith.
The festivity usually lasts between 22 to 25 November.
During that period you can enjoy the town’s rich cultural, entertaining and sports activities.
Selce is a town of fishermen and masons, giving you a unique, relaxing, and unforgettable experience.
Selce belongs to the bigger town of Crikvenica in the northern part of Croatia.
It’s recognised for its crystal blue sea, stunning beaches, rich history and many sports and cultural activities.
During the festivity of their patron saint, you will encounter a fair of local products and souvenirs, followed by concerts of local singers and bowling tournaments on the main square.
2- Make An Advent Wreath
While for some people, the Christmas period starts with St. Catherine’s day, for others, it begins on 27 November with the first lit candle on the Advent wreath.
Making the wreath in the family circle is one of the traditions which provides a special bonding with the family and the whole festivity.
The wreath is usually made out of evergreen branches put into a large circle and decorated with pinecones and a red bow with four candles.
The wreath represents endlessness, while each candle has a different meaning.
The first candle represents creation and hope, while the second represents embodiment and peace.
The third candle represents redemption and joy, while the fourth symbolises ending and love.
Candles are lit four Sundays before Christmas and a fifth candle in the centre is lit on Christmas Day.
3- Sow Wheat On St. Barbara’s Day In Zagorje
The Christmas period in Zagorje usually starts on 4 December, St. Barbara’s Day.
There are many customs, rituals and processions related to this patron saint.
One of the ancient pre-Christian customs is sowing wheat, where is believed depending on how the wheat in the pot grows, that’s how the harvest would turn out the next year.
There are other things related to superstition, such as young men going from house to house early in the morning, where housekeepers would sprinkle wheat on the boys, and later they would throw corn on the floor for them to pick it up.
Also, a person who starts making a broom on that day and finishes on Christmas Eve will be able to detect a thief.
4- Hang A Sock At The Window On St. Nicholas’s Day
One of the children’s favourite saints is St. Nicholas, the protector of the mariners, the poor, bakers, fishermen and women.
There is a really special custom on his day.
The night before, on 5 December, children put the largest sock at the window.
If they were good that year, St. Nicholas would visit their home at night and fill the sock with gifts, usually sweets, but the naughty children would get birch sticks or coals, left by Krampus, a devil-like colleague of St. Nicholas.
This custom teaches children the difference between the good and the bad.
5- St. Lucy’s Day
St. Lucy is known as a protector of the blind and those with sore throats.
It’s celebrated on 13 December, with many different customs.
One custom is sowing Christmas wheat which symbolises vitality and strength.
Another custom is for unmarried girls, where single girls have to write down 13 names on 13 pieces of paper.
Every day until Christmas, they have to burn one piece of paper, and the last one opens on Christmas with the name of her future husband.
In Međimurje, there is a custom of baking round corn bagels without salt and fat, which would be given to people as protection against rabies.
It’s also common for children to receive gifts on St. Lucy’s Day instead of St. Nicholas’s.
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6- Christmas Wheat
Tall, green Christmas wheat is one of the famous symbols of this period representing vitality and strength.
According to the legend, that year’s harvest depends on how the seeds germinate. The harvest will be good if they germinate well, and vice versa.
Usually, people sow lots of wheat, so there is no fear of a bad harvest for that year.
It’s also common to put three coloured ribbons around the wheat, representing the Croatian flag’s colours.
7- Badnjak (Christmas Eve)
Christmas Eve, known as Badnjak, is the last day of Christmas preparations and when everyone is rushing to buy last-minute presents and finish all the preparations for Christmas Day.
On that day, it’s common to restrain from eating meat until midnight.
The favourite meal to eat on Christmas Eve is a homemade cod with potatoes.
During the afternoon and evening, while mom finishes her last batch of cookies, the children are busy decorating the Christmas tree.
Later in the night, all the family goes to the local church for a midnight mass called Ponoćka.
Usually, after the mass, younger generations stay out with their friends and enjoy the festivities.
8- Taste Cod With Potatoes
As I previously mentioned, it’s typical to restrain from eating meat on Christmas Eve, 24 December.
The main dish on the Croatian tables that day is cod with potatoes and the meal preparation starts at least three days before.
Cod is left to soak for two or three days, cooked until soft with potatoes.
After that, bakalar is separated from potatoes to remove all the bones.
Then, it’s mixed with potatoes and seasoning like parsley, garlic, salt and pepper.
The result is the most delicious cod you will ever try.
My mom’s cod is the best, but you’ll hear that from any Croatian you ask.
9- Celebrate Christmas Day
On Christmas Day, we usually wake up with the sweet smell of homemade fritule.
Rushing to see what Santa has left us under the Christmas tree, it’s common to gather the family and open the gifts.
Meanwhile, mom prepares breakfast before going to the mass.
After the mass, it’s all about the food and spending time with the family.
The Christmas table is rich with roasted turkey, duck and lamb.
In some parts of Croatia, is common to eat beef stew and sarma, with potatoes and veggies.
Usually, that lunch lasts until late, followed by desserts and good wine.
10- Štefanje (St. Stephen’s Day)
The day after Christmas, 26 December, is St. Stephen’s Day or Štefanje and another day-off work for Croatians.
St. Stephen was a protomartyr and the first Christian martyr who preached Jesus’s doctrine and died in the name of Jesus Christ.
He represents forgiveness and the fight against injustice.
Croatians gather with their friends, relatives, and neighbours to celebrate Christmas.
It’s a perfect opportunity to get out of the house and move from all the food from their homes to other people’s homes.
Holy Three Kings is celebrated on 6 January, marking the end of the festivity, which includes removing decorations and Christmas trees.
On that day, the local priest visits the family’s homes for a blessing.
He would sprinkle the house with Holy water and put a sticker with the picture and initials of the Three Kings, with the numbers denoting the year.
12- The Christmas Table
Food is one of the things Croatians are famous for, and the Christmas table varies from region to region.
Traditional food which you can find on most Croatian tables on Christmas Day is roasted turkey, lamb, pig or duck, French salad, potatoes and veggies.
In some regions, you can find different stews or sarma (cabbage rolls filled with rice and minced pork meat), one of my favourites, along with the cod.
13- Christmas Desserts
One of my favourite sensations on Christmas morning is waking up to the smell of fresh fritule, deep-fried doughnut-like pastries.
They are the best when eaten fresh and still soft and sweet.
Some people add raisins inside, sugar, or chocolate on top.
Other well-known desserts are vanilla biscuits in different shapes, makovnjača (poppy seed roll), and orahnjača (sweet walnut roll).
14- Christmas Markets
After two full days in the house, indulging in food, drinks, and good company, there is always a fantastic atmosphere followed by good music at the Christmas markets.
In Croatia, every city has its own Christmas market.
Those little wooden houses, with the smell of sausages, dipped in rich flavoured mustard sauce, followed by the aroma of red vine and brewed gin, are where you’ll find good vibes, laughter, and music.
15- Explore Adventura In Šibenik
As I’m from Šibenik, a small coastal town, I can highly recommend our Christmas market, called Adventura.
It’s in the centre of the town in a big park next to the city library and starts from the beginning of December until the first week of January.
Adventura is one of the favourite places to be at Christmas time, it gathers all generations and has good music, lots of open-air concerts, good food, local wines, beers and always good vibes.
In 2021, it was the only Christmas market that was 100% plastic free. Enjoy the special atmosphere at Christmas time with this guided evening walk.
16- Go On A Christmas Markets Crawl In Zagreb
Carrying the title of the best Christmas market for three years in a row (2016-2018), Zagreb is one of the must-visit Christmas destinations in Croatia.
Several Christmas markets spread throughout the city centre, with colourful decorations and lights, give you a true Christmas spirit.
Each market has different installations, activities, open-air concerts, and exhibitions supported by various local and international food and drinks.
Highlights are the ice skating park in Tomislav square, Baš Naš Christmas market in Upper Town, the unavoidable, romantic atmosphere in Zrinjevac Park, and the interesting, wintery installations in Grič Tunnel. Experience the magic of Zagreb on this tour.
17- Climb Sljeme Mountain
After several days of indulging in enormous portions of food and alcohol, you will see many people in mountain Medvednica, Sljeme.
The beautiful nature of Sljeme offers the perfect escape from all the calories on the table and allows you to burn calories and recharge your batteries.
Sljeme is the highest peak of mountain Medvednica, but among the locals, Medvednica is known as Sljeme.
It’s very close to the city centre and easily approached by car or tram.
In winter, you can find real snow, so it’s also convenient for skiers.
18- Christmas Magic in Plitvička Jezera
Hidden away from the city noise and traffic, in the middle of the woods, surrounded only by green vegetation and the sound of birds, Plitvicka Jezera offers an opportunity to relax and enjoy nature’s gifrs.
The national park is in Lika, the central part of Croatia, an hour by car from Zagreb.
It offers the perfect wintery, cosy atmosphere during the Christmas period, where you can indulge in rich gastro offers from that region, ice skating, and many other winter activities.
Usually, during winter, this part of Croatia is covered with snow, offering an opportunity to experience a stunning landscape of trees and waterfalls covered in snow.
19- Silvestrovo or New Year’s Eve
After a month of festivities, Croatians, like the rest of the world, close this heartwarming period of the year with New Year’s Eve.
In Croatia, the celebration starts in the morning on 31 December, with friends and family gatherings in the city, where you can hear the music on every corner.
This day includes dressing up in glitter, decorations, fireworks, and drinking champagne in waterfalls.
The celebration lasts all day on the streets and in the bars.
Almost every city prepares a celebration on the main square with a live concert by some popular singer.
Others, choose the more intimate option of staying at home or waiting for the New Year in a restaurant with their close ones.
20- Watch The Nutcracker At The Croatian National Theater
If you end up in Zagreb or Split during Christmas, make sure you go and see The Nutcracker.
The plot is about a girl and a nutcracker who springs to life on Christmas Eve and fights against the evil Mouse King.
This heartwarming ballet is a perfect festive activity for the whole family.
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