Croatians are renowned for knowing how to throw a party. In a country where weddings, child-birth and sports victories are known to be celebrated for days if not weeks, it is no different when Christmas rolls around each year…
For Croatians the big day in the Christmas period is “Badnji Dan” (Christmas Eve Day) and “Badnja Večer” (Christmas Eve night). The term badnjak comes from the old slavic words bodar or badar meaning “to be awake”, hence referring to staying awake all through the night until Christmas Day.
The tradition of bringing a log into the house and placing it on the fire on badnjak, and keeping it burning throughout Christmas Day, has been going on in regions in Croatia for centuries.
Since Christmas Eve is a fasting day, traditionally on Christmas Eve Croatians eat a small meal in the evening. Bakalar (dried cod-fish) from Dalmatia is served with a salad or cabbage in households all over the country. Later in the evening locals make their way to the abundance of nearby churches for “midnight mass”. After mass the bars come alive as Croatians party through the night – strictly adhering to the term where the word badnajk was derived from.
Another old tradition is sowing of pšenica (wheat seeds) in a bowl of water (usually on St. Lucy’s day), which will grow until Christmas and is then used to decorate the table on Christmas. The wheat is trimmed and usually wrapped with a red, white and blue ribbon of the Croatian tricolour.
On Christmas Day Croatians traditionally prepare turkey, lamb, roasted pig, sarma (minced meat wrapped in cabbage), peppers stuffed with minced meat, salads, freshly baked bread and traditional Christmas deserts such as fritule (pastry resembling doughnuts), strudel, walnut and poppy-seed cakes and many, many more delights.
Traditionally there is always a generous supply of dried fruits, honey and nuts at Croatian homes during the festive period. If you have a chance to spend a Christmas in Croatia, one thing is for certain, you won’t go hungry.