It’s wintertime on the Adriatic coast and islands. Our fleet of luxury small cruise ships safely rests in its homeport of Krilo Jesenice, near Split. Though Croatia cruise season is now on the opposite pole of the year, its coast and islands live the festive season to the fullest. Christmas customs along the Croatian coast are a true showcase of culture, history and spirit of Dalmatia. So, pull on your gloves and scarves on. Cause we’re about to take a winter tour of our summer cruise destinations and of all Christmas customs along the Croatian coast.
DUBROVNIK CHRISTMAS FAIRY TALE
When it comes to Dubrovnik attractiveness, it’s hard to exaggerate. Enter the King’s Landing as the winter descends. In the true southern spirit, massive City Walls gleam amidst a ring of orange trees, sparkling with Christmas lights. Old City’s archways are adorned with laurels and its marble streets twinkle with decorations. Of all the Christmas customs along the Croatian coast, those of Dubrovnik are by far the most elegant.
Convent of St. Claire’s atrium is home of the Dubrovnik Christmas fair. This lively meeting point is sure to keep all your senses happy for hours and hours. Practically everything showcased here is handmade. There’s original local handicraft, glasswork, pottery, porcelain, and traditional Konavle embroidery. Furthermore, there are handmade candles and Christmas ornaments.
Surely, a feast for the eyes is accompanied by a feast for the palate, as the fair offers piles of local festive food. Don’t miss “arancini”, the candied orange peels or “kotonjata”, the quince cheese. Not to mention plenty of Christmas cookies, traditional roasted candied almonds… And many other local specialties to nourish that end-of-the-year ambiance. Naturally, there are all those fine Croatian wines, to wash your throat in between delicious bites.
THE ENCHANTING SOUNDS OF CHRISTMAS IN DUBROVNIK
With a bit of right timing, you’ll see Christmas pageantry and flurries of fake snow from the Bell Tower. Or a live nativity performed by the youngest of Dubrovnik on the evening of 23rd December. In these coldest days, the stark winter beauty of Dubrovnik is full of music and song. Indeed, the true spirit of local Christmas is best seen – and heard – in traditional caroling.
This old custom reaches back to the 13th century. Very much alive to this day, it is the heartbeat of Dubrovnik streets and squares throughout festive season. You simply cannot miss it! Kolende are performed mostly by groups of younger men, called “kolendari”. Going from house to house, they wish their listeners prosperity, health, and happiness. “Kolendari’s” efforts and good spirit are amply rewarded by sweet treats or money.
Walking down Dubrovnik’s main street of Stradun you’ll notice many smiling people, exchanging traditional greetings and best wishes. One thing will surely catch you eye: throughout the festive season, Dubrovnikers dress up, for real. Women wear elegant dresses and high heels. Men dress up in nice suits and ties. No doubt, the sophistication of historical Republic of Dubrovnik lives on!
CHRISTMAS SCENTS OF THE MOST SOUTHERN CROATIAN COAST
Dubrovnik countryside of Konavle spices up Christmas season in its own way. Its mills and fertile fields yield plentiful organic crops during warmer seasons. And when the winter solstice arrives, the industrious locals turn all that produce into soulful feast. If you happen to visit Konavle around Christmas, you’ll be treated like a king – or queen – for that matter.
The festive tables of Konavle are full of regional sweet delicacies such as “prikle” or “kroštule”. Though the salty end offer is highly competitive! Also, there’s tasteful crusty homemade bread. Furthermore, exquisite prosciutto and cheeses along those fine regional wines. All of this is served by Konavle people wearing local costumes, embroidered by silk. Fine chance is you’ll see them dancing their traditional merry dances, as they do at all festive occasions. In comparison to other Christmas customs along Croatian coast, this southernmost region doesn’t lack a thing. On the contrary!
CHRISTMAS BONFIRES OF HVAR
Of all the Croatian islands, Hvar perhaps has the most particular Christmas customs. Here, locals make a clear distinction between greetings exchange on Christmas Eve’s afternoon, the evening of Christmas Eve, and the actual Christmas. In the run-up to the year’s end, they lit two celebratory bonfires in front of churches in Stari Grad. First includes the burning of an old boat on the 6th of December, a dedication to St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. The other is lit in honor of St Lucy, the patroness of eyes and eyesight, on 13th December.
On the very Christmas Eve, people of Hvar will customarily cut a branch of olive tree, which is then blessed by priest and ritually burned in the evening. After a festive dinner, everyone dresses up and attends Midnight Mass, a custom shared with the rest of Croatia.
AND THE FAVORITE CHRISTMAS FOOD IS….
Since the Catholic tradition prescribes the Christmas Eve to be a day of abstinence from meat, people in Dalmatia turn to fish. Specifically, one Christmas meal is all-present in all of Dalmatia: salted dry cod. This may sound not particularly attractive until you try it prepared in traditional fashion. “Al Bianco” is a sort of mash-potato soup with parsley and garlic. Another popular alternative is a kind of cod stew, called “brodet”. Also, both recipes are a perfect match for those exquisite Croatian wines.
ALL THE SPLIT’S PARTIES
Christmas customs along Croatian coast differ from those of continental Croatia and Europe. Though everyone decorates Christmas trees, there is no frenzy of build-up to Christmas. And there is no sudden let down, either – since Croatians just love to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
Nowhere in Dalmatia is this more obvious than in Split. Here, on New Year’s Eve tens of thousand people take it to the streets, singing and dancing. Known for their humor and grit, people of Split don’t give to the morning-after hangover. At least not all of them. On the 1st of December, the bravest locals take it to the central Split’s beach Bacvice. To illustrate, they pull on their swimming suits and enter the shallow cold water to play “picigin”. This peculiar game has no clear rules nor opposing teams. The only aim is to keep a very small handball above the sea surface. And to make as many exuberant leaps and acrobatic stunts as possible. “Picigin” is all about fun and camaraderie, right in the spirit of temperamental and party-loving Split. Moreover, solid proof Split people take partying and fun seriously all-year-round!
READY TO PARTY LIKE A LOCAL
And now that you’ve learned something about Christmas customs along Croatian coast, it time to learn some greetings!
Merry Christmas! is ”Sretan Bozic!“ (sreah-tan boh-zich, with the z pronounced like the ‘s’ in measure).
Happy New Year! is “Sretna Nova Godina!“ (sreat-nah no-vah goh-dee-na)
So, until the 2021 Croatia cruise season, Sretan Bozić to y’all!
And Sretna Nova godina!