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Why is Christmas SO Big in Croatia?

Christmas Eve and Christmas in Croatia are cherished moments of spiritual reflection, family unity, and cultural celebration. In Croatia, Christmas Eve (Badnji dan) and Christmas Day (Božić) are celebrated with deep-rooted traditions and cultural significance. 

Why is Christmas SO Big in Croatia?

Religious Significance and Badnjak Traditions

Christmas is primarily a religious celebration in Croatia, with the majority of the population being Roman Catholic. Christmas Eve marks the culmination of the Advent season, symbolizing the anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ. Midnight Mass (Polnoćka) on Christmas Eve is a central religious observance, bringing families together to celebrate the birth of Jesus. 

Attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is a common practice for Croatians. Churches are beautifully decorated, and the Mass is a solemn and joyous occasion. Many people attend with their families, and the ringing of church bells marks the beginning of Christmas. 

Why is Christmas SO Big in Croatia?

Christmas Eve is traditionally a time for family reunions and gatherings. Families come together for a festive dinner, which is often a rich and elaborate meal. The dinner typically includes various traditional dishes, such as fish, sarma (cabbage rolls), and various sweets. The atmosphere is warm, and families exchange gifts and well-wishes. 

One of the unique Croatian Christmas traditions is the ritual of bringing in the Yule log, known as “Badnjak.” This log symbolizes the warmth and light of Christ and is ceremonially placed on the fire. Lighting the Badnjak is accompanied by prayers, and the ashes from the burned log are believed to bring good fortune. 

Sowing Wheat and Straw Traditions

One awesome custom that stands out is the tradition of sowing Christmas wheat. It’s like a symbol of life hitting the refresh button! On St. Barbara or St. Lucia’s day, people plant wheat, a cool Catholic symbol, and get all festive by decorating their homes with greenery. This tradition is a mix of old-school vibes and a sprinkle of Christian symbolism, all to bless the upcoming harvest. 

Here’s the fun part: you won’t find this wheat magic in many places in Europe—just in sunny Croatia, Portugal, and southern Italy! The wheat grows super nice in a container filled with water, becoming a star on the Christmas table or chilling under the Christmas tree. People jazz it up with the Croatian tricolor, toss in an apple and some candles, making it Instagram-worthy. And guess what? After the holidays, the wheat gets a new gig—feeding the birds. 


Now, let’s time-travel to the villages. While the wheat action stayed alive in the cities, some other cool customs almost did a disappearing act in the villages. Back in the day, folks used to bring in a Christmas tree and lay down some straw under the holiday table. But nowadays, it’s like finding treasure when these traditions pop up. 

Straw = Jesus Christ Was Born in Stable

Speaking of straw, it was a big deal. Bringing it into the house was like the official signal that Christmas was in full swing. Families would belt out Christmas carols while tossing straw around. They’d spread it on the floor, slap a bit on the table under a fancy tablecloth, and even weave it into bundles and garlands. After a hearty Christmas dinner, everyone would gather on the straw for a chat until it was time to hit the church. Some folks even ditched their beds on Christmas Eve and slept on the brought-in straw. It’s like stepping into a cozy Christmas movie, right? 

Why is Christmas SO Big in Croatia?

And get this, the straw wasn’t just a decor thing—it had a deeper meaning. It symbolized Jesus being born in a stable, and the bundles and wreaths? They were all about fertility vibes. After the holidays, that blessed straw turned into a good-luck charm, promising a bountiful harvest in the garden and fields. 

Christmas Time Celebrations

The magical season of Advent is a time of joyful anticipation and festive preparations leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ! It’s like a countdown to Christmas, lasting four weeks and symbolizing the four millennia from the creation of the world to Christ’s arrival, as per the Bible. 


Starting from St. Catherine’s Day, we dive into the Christmas spirit with a four-week fast and loads of exciting activities. Every morning, there’s a special Zornica or Rorata mass, where believers gather for confession and communion, sparking a sense of renewal and reflection on Christian values. 

But that’s not all—Advent in Croatia is a blend of tradition and joy. People celebrate with unique Advent songs, and there’s a special focus on St. Catherine’s Day, which kicks off the entire Christmas season. This season is like a journey, starting with Advent and wrapping up with Candlemas and St. Milder’s Day. 

One iconic symbol you’ll spot around is the Advent wreath, woven with evergreen branches and four candles representing key points in human history: creation, incarnation, redemption, and the end. Each Sunday of Advent, a new candle is lit, building up to a beautifully lit wreath by Christmas. The wreath isn’t just a decoration; it’s a powerful reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, urging families to come together in prayer and preparation. 

Your CTC Team

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