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Exploring Croatian Easter: Customs, Cuisine, and Community

After forty days of Lent, Croatian Easter arrives, marking a new beginning. This holiday is all about celebrating with family.  It’s a big deal in Christianity, but people from all backgrounds come together in Croatia to mark the occasion. In the lead-up to Easter, there’s a 40-day preparation period. The week leading to Easter Sunday starts with Palm Sunday. One neat tradition mixes religion with nature: people wash themselves with water mixed with flower petals and herbs. Another Easter symbol is the lily, known for its purity. Many decorate their tables with wildflowers to celebrate. 

Croatian Easter

Easter customs are a big part of Croatian tradition, especially in rural areas. These traditions have been around for ages, even before Christianity came to Croatia. They’re influenced by different cultures like Germanic, Scandinavian, and Slavic. Even though customs vary from place to place, they all involve preparing for Easter, blessing food, and coloring eggs. 

Croatian Easter Preparations

During Holy Week, people have been cleaning their homes and going to church for confession since ancient times. This is to symbolically cleanse the soul, following Christian tradition. In Slavonia, on Maundy Thursday, people bake bread and tie church bells. On Fridays, they fast by eating fish. The day before Easter, children in some places make nests out of grass, where their parents leave gifts overnight. 

Holy Mass
Holy Mass

In many rural areas of Croatia, church bells are not rung during Holy Week. People focus on chores and stay away from the fields. In Zagorje, there’s a lively atmosphere as people not only paint Easter eggs but also their houses. In some parts of northwestern Croatia, Easter bonfires are lit at dawn after a long night. These bonfires are made of pine trees or logs. In Dalmatia, people make rattles and ratchets.

Despite the different customs during Holy Week, fasting and preparing meatless and fish dishes are common. In Dalmatia, Good Friday meals include sea bream, hake, octopus, and squid, along with vegetables and potatoes. Istrian cuisine features chickpea maneštra and white cod. In areas without fish, dishes are made from cabbage. 

The Meaning and Traditions of Easter

Easter is one of the oldest Christian holidays, celebrated since the time of the apostles. It honors the resurrection of Jesus, who, according to Christian belief, came back to life three days after he was crucified. In the beginning, Easter was celebrated every Sunday, but later it became an annual event, celebrated once a year since the second century. Unlike Christmas, which always falls on the same date, Easter’s timing is based on the lunar calendar. It happens on the 40th day after Ash Wednesday, which is during a period called Lent. During Lent, Christians fast and reflect on their faith and promises made during baptism. Many choose to give up certain pleasures or habits during this time. 

The significance of Easter lies in Jesus’ sacrifice, which Christians believe freed humanity from sin and offered eternal life. It’s a celebration of new beginnings and the promise of life after death. 

Croatian Easter
Emptiness filled with hope: The empty grave of Jesus Christ on Easter, a symbol of resurrection and new beginnings.

The holiday’s origins trace back to Passover, a Jewish celebration of God’s miracles, including the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Christians see Jesus’ resurrection as a fulfillment of this tradition. 

Easter is more than just one day; it’s a three-day celebration. It starts with Maundy Thursday, followed by Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ death, and then Holy Saturday. During this time, families prepare special foods like Easter eggs and ham for a festive meal. In our region, Easter breakfast typically includes boiled ham, spring onions, radishes, and eggs, symbolizing new life. A special bread, like pinca or braided bread adorned with Easter eggs, is also a part of the meal. The feast continues with a lavish lunch featuring dishes like duck, lamb, or suckling pig, depending on the local traditions and climate.  

Customs: The Timeless Craft of Coloring Easter Eggs

“A gift often exchanged between couples, especially from a guy to a girl, is a booklet for writing. Sometimes, playful messages like ‘This egg is given for a kiss’ can be found written inside,” explains Professor Josip Barlek. 


This year, as usual, believers and those who follow the tradition will gather paints to color Easter eggs. This brings joy to the youngest family members who eagerly anticipate Easter morning and the sight of baskets filled with colorful eggs. The term ‘writing’ actually comes from an Old Slavic word that also means painting, reflecting the practice of decorating Easter eggs. Professor Josip Barlek, from the Ethnographic Museum in Zagreb, sheds light on how Easter eggs were decorated in the past and are still adorned in some villages in Podravina, Zagorje, and Međimurje. 

Before artificial dyes were available, people in rural areas relied on natural dyes found in their surroundings. Red dye, the most common, was extracted from plants like brocha roots, beets, onion skins, and red radicchio. Elderberry, mulberry, or soot were used for black dye, resulting in a rich black-brown hue when combined with oak bark. Green hues were achieved using nettle roots, spinach, or leeks. However, by the early 20th century, textile and commercial dyes became more common for coloring eggs.  

Croatian Easter
Natural dyeing

Croatian Easter Has Its Symbols

In certain parts of Croatia, it’s a tradition to wash up on Holy Saturday. People place violets and twigs in a basin of water or even throw them into a puddle in a field to freshen up and look nice.   

Now, let’s talk about Easter eggs, the main symbol of Easter. These aren’t just plain colored eggs – painting Easter eggs has become an art form. People use thin pieces of wood dipped in melted wax to create intricate designs. They also use a technique called scraping. This creates beautiful decorations like patterns, flowers, and symbols of the sun, fertility, and love. 


Giving Easter eggs is a common practice, often from a girl to a boy. It’s not uncommon to see drawings of sentimental shapes like two pigeons on the eggs. Sometimes, messages are written too. For instance, in Međimurje, you might find a message like “This egg is given for a kiss.” In Podravina, people write entire greetings on the eggs, wishing for health, happiness, and a good harvest. Some eggs even carry religious messages. 

In different parts of Croatia, there are unique customs surrounding Easter eggs. In Dubrovnik, for example, a bride-to-be has to give her fiancé a dozen eggs and bake a special bread for her future mother-in-law. 

Bunnies and Chickens

Aside from Easter eggs, other symbols like bunnies and chickens are also part of the celebrations. These symbols represent the awakening of nature after winter. The bunny, in particular, is a newer addition to Croatian Easter customs. It was borrowed from European countries where it’s associated with fertility. 

Croatian Easter

Easter customs continue until White Sunday, the Sunday after Easter. The fasting that began on Ash Wednesday reaches its peak on Good Friday and Saturday. Then, on Easter Sunday, households prepare a feast with eggs and ham as symbols of abundance. Traditional Easter pastries like braids, kuglofi, and pretzels adorn the table. In some areas, people stay up all night before Easter to light large bonfires made of pine or logs, symbolizing fertility and prosperity for the land. 

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Your CTC Team

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