Christmas in Croatia used to be celebrated only at homes until a few years ago. During socialism it wasn’t a popular business to be outspoken about one’s religious beliefs and practices.
I remember that, in my family, we weren’t allowed to decorate a Christmas tree. My father was a member of the communist party, and that meant no Christmas for us.
My grandfather was a member of the communist party too, but my grandma defied his instructions – she decorated her tree right in the window so everyone could see it. They always fought over that.
Pushed into silence, many families celebrated Christmas in the privacy of their homes. Christmas is about getting together anyway, but the fear from the outside world made it even more so.
People marked Christmas with food and bonding because nobody could complain about that. And this is what we still do: plenty of eating and hanging out together.
Today we get days off work so we can hang out for longer and eat even more. We can be outspoken: we decorate our Christmas trees sometimes weeks before it’s normally due, we go to the midnight mass on Christmas Eve and we celebrate in the open air.
Zagreb Tourist Board throws up an award-winning across-the-city feast Advent in Zagreb to turn Christmas into a proper tourist attraction.
You won’t regret coming to Zagreb any time in December. The city’s streets and squares are alive with music, Christmas fairs and plenty of warm food and drinks.
It seems that now we have the best of both worlds: long family bonding, delicious food and open-air festivities.
If you want to know what our Christmas really looks like, scroll through my Ultimate A-Z guide to Croatian Christmas!
A for Advent
Advent wreath with 4 red candles is a common decoration in people’s houses and in cities. One by one candle is lit on 4 Sundays preceding Christmas.
B for Bakalar (dry cod stew)
Dry cod stew is eaten on Christmas Eve. It’s a fasting food originating from Dalmatia but today eaten all around Croatia.
C for Christmas Tree
We decorate it at homes and outdoors, and sometimes much sooner than Christmas. It usually stays on until Epiphany, the 6th January, but if the kids insist – much longer again!
D for Detox on mountain top Sljeme
We hike to the Sljeme mountain top in Zagreb to burn off the calories we piled up eating – only to treat ourselves with beans and sausage on the summit.
E if for Eating, lots of eating
We eat and eat. It has nothing to do with being hungry. It’s just how things are.
F is for Fooling around at the Funicular
The charming Tomićeva street – home of the Zagreb Funicular – becomes one of the loveliest Christmas hubs in Zagreb. Its theme is back to the 1930s.
G is for Getting together
We spend all the festive times with the extended family.We eat and drink together, but it’s not uncommon to stay on for an afternoon nap on their couch too!
H if for Hand-made Produce Fair
During December you can buy amazing hand-crafted souvenirs and home-made food and drinks at fairs around cities. Look for eco toys, home-cured meets and home-brewed brandies!
I is for Ice-skating
The awesome large ice-skating rink at Tomislav Square is one of the top highlights of Zagreb Advent. The atmosphere is just breathtaking.
J if for Joy of Gifts
We exchange gifts but they don’t have to be big. In families with lots of children, adults sometimes get a small symbolic item, like a chocolate.
K is for Kissing and Hugging
We kiss and hug a lot. Unless someone is very close to you, we usually shake hands first and then kiss them on the cheeks – left, then right side.
L is for Loafing Around
Between Christmas and New Year everything stops: it’s the time for no to-do lists. We just loaf around, and eat, of course!
M is for Midnight Mass
Midnight mass on Christmas Eve is magical. Many people go out, the city is vibrant, attracting even those who are not devout Catholics.
N is for St. Nicholas
St Nicholas is celebrated on 6th December. We buy small presents to each other (if we were good) and a symbolic spanking branch (if we were bad).
O is for Open-air Concerts
December open-air concerts in Zagreb are a must-see. There is something on every night, culminating with large concerts on New Year’s Eve.
P is for Pork
We eat roast pork on New Year’s Day. The symbolism behind it is that a pig pushes forward with its snout just like you should in the New Year – no looking back.
Q is for Queue for Sausage and Mulled Wine
If you stay out enjoying the city atmosphere, you’ll want to warm up with some mulled wine and a sausage. You’ll be queueing to get that!
R is for Red, something red
We believe red at Christmas brings luck. We often give each other red apples and we wear a red item.
S is for Snow
We usually have lots of snow for Christmas and our city transport rarely fails. Let’s hope Croatia turns white this year too!
T is for Turkey
We eat turkey (or any other bird) on Christmas Day. Birds flick dirt with their legs backwards, pushing away all that is bad away into the past. That’s what we should do too.
U is for Urban Fairytale
Advent in Croatia used to be celebrated only at homes. It’s nice to have the cities liven up at this time of year.
V is for Visiting Friends
Christmas Day is for the family, but after that people visit their friends to exchange greetings. In villages, dedicated greeters go round with a live band or on horses – a custom still kept.
W is for Walking Around the City
We walk around the city to enjoy the atmosphere and to get a break from all the eating and lying around.
X is for Xenon Lights Decorations
They come on in late November and in Zagreb are just lovely!
Y is for Yummy Cakes and Biscuits
There isn’t one Christmas cake but many cakes and biscuits. Some people bake 10 different kinds. You can never say no to them when you visit.
Z is for Zrinjevac
Zrinjevac park in Zagreb must be the nicest place in Croatia at Christmas. There is open-air music, eating and drinking and a souvenirs fair.
If you enjoyed this guide, share it with friends and tell them to come to Zagreb!