Baby Jesus is Coming Tonight

Christmas in Croatia

Map of Country

Map of Croatia courtesy of www.



          Christmas is a holiday celebrated all around the world linking back to its pagan roots of the Winter Solstice. Even though the celebration varies from country to country, all Christians still view the holiday as the birth of Jesus Christ. In the United States, the celebration has evolved into more a day of gift-giving than a religious celebration. This is contrary to Croatia where the holiday is mainly looked at as a religious celebration above everything else. Even though the United States still recognizes the birth of Jesus as the reason for celebrating Christmas, the Croats focus their holiday more on a religious day than a day of gift giving.


Additional Image 1   Additional Image 2

During Christmas, Croats decorate their houses with greenery.  Picture courtesy of A typical Croatian meal during the Christmas season.  Picture courtesy of


          Like many other countries around the world, Croatians celebrate Christmas. The holiday varies across the world, but I will note the main differences with Christmas in the United States verses those of Croatia . In Croatia , Christmas is focused more as a religious celebration than it is in the United States (Radman 1998: 126).


Context of Croatia

          Present day Croatia is located in Southeastern Europe just South of Slovenia and East across the Adriatic Sea from Italy . The geography of the continent is diverse. Along the Hungarian border, there are flat plains, but near the Adriatic coast, there are low mountains (Coutsoukis 2000). The coastal climate of Croatia is Mediterranean consisting of hot dry summers and mild winters (Word Travels). Inland, there is a continental climate where the summers are hot and the winters are cold (Word Travels).

        The area of Croatia was held by the indigenous Illyrians until they lost their land in 229 BC to the Roman Empire (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia). After the Roman Empire collapsed around 625, Slavic tribes migrated to what is now Croatia from where Poland is today (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia). Germany invaded Yugoslavia in 1941 and set up a fascist government in Croatia (Trifkovic 1993: 883). In 1945, Croatia became one of the six republics of reconstituted Yugoslavia . Croatia stayed nationalistic in Communist Yugoslavia. During this time many of the Christian traditions were repressed and had to be practiced privately. Croatia declared its independence from the Yugoslav Federation in June 1991 and after falling captive to the Serb Army, the Dayton Agreement of December 1995 brought stability to the country (Trifkovic 1993: 903).


Origins of Christmas

          The word Christmas originates from the Old English words “Crist Messe” meaning Christ's Festival (A Word a Day). The pagan roots of Christmas started with “Yule,” the celebration of the Winter Solstice on December 22. Gift were also given on this day long before Christ was born. Traditions such as wreaths and Yule logs are reminders of the original beginning of Christmas. To look at the start of Christmas in the Catholic church, some would argue the birth of Jesus was the true start of Christmas, others would cite Christmas was first celebrated in 354 AD when Catholic mass first recognized Christ's birthday as December 25 (Themes). Christmas has been celebrated in Croatia since the ninth century as the celebration of Jesus' birthday and to also recognize how the Catholic Church helped Croatia get its independence during the 1990's (




           A great deal of the Christmas holiday in Croatia is centered around the dining table and food. On Christmas Eve, a large meal is served in preparation for Christmas day. Families are careful not to eat meat on Christmas Eve because it customary not to in Catholic countries (Radman 1998: 127). Instead they eat traditional foods such as strudel or codfish (Gilliland 1986: 450). On Christmas Day, a wide variety of food is prepared and shared with friends and family (Radman 1998: 128). Sharing food seems to be a universal theme on Christmas and can even be seen among !Kung Bushmen in Kalahari. One year the !Kung were presented a giant Ox as a gift to the tribe, and they cut it up and fed the whole village with it. They shared the food with everybody in the village (Lee 1996). Back in Croatia , the main Christmas Dinner course can be a roast suckling pig, turkey, or any other kind of meat (Janekovic 1999). The main part of the Christmas meal however is the Christmas bread, or Badnji Kruh , made with nuts, honey, and dried fruit (Radman 1998: 127).

          Croatian families decorate their homes with greenery including: ivy, holly, maple, fir, or an evergreen tree. The event of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve is known as Badnjak in Croatia (Janekovic 1999). Badnjak comes from the word for a yule log, which is place under the tree on Christmas Eve. On Badnjak, candles are lit and Croats make wishes to the yule long all night long (Janekovic 1999).

          Gifts are given on Christmas, but the day is focused more as a spiritual holy day. Children in Croatia believe the gifts were brought by saints, and whereas in North America and Western Europe gifts are from Santa Claus, Croatian children believe their gifts are from baby Jesus (Janekovic 1999).



Christmas Trees are elaborately decorated in Croatia.





Prognosis for Christmas

          Christmas has been celebrated in Croatia since the ninth century and has been growing ever since. During the time period from 1941 to 1991 when Croatia was part of Yugoslavia , the popularity of Christmas was lessened due to the repression of the Christian faith. Ever since Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the holiday has been growing and will continue to grow in the future (Radman 1998: 126).




            Compared to the United States , Croatia celebrates Christmas as more of a religious holiday than a day of gift giving. The United States on the other hand, has a more commercialized Christmas where gift giving is a bigger deal than religious celebration. Croatia still celebrates Christmas to spend time with their families and remember the birth of Jesus Christ.


Internet References Cited

  • 4Learning

      20004 We are from… Croatia . Electronic Document,


          accessed October 7, 2004.

    Note of Site: Good site with basic information about Croatia .


    Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia

      2004 History Through the Nineteenth Century. Electronic Document, , accessedSeptember 14, 2004.

    Note of Site: A pretty reliable site if you want general information about topics.


    Coutsoukis, Photius

      2000 Croatia Geography 2000. Electronic Document,


           accessed September 15, 2004.

    Note of Site: Gave a good description of the geography of Croatia .


    Education World

      2004 Christmas Around the World. Electronic Document,


          accessed October 4, 2004.

    Note of Site: A great site to find a lot of information about Christmas.


    Word Travels

      2004 Croatia Climate and Weather. Electronic Document,

         accessed January 20, 2004.

    Note of Site: A travel site that has general information about any country.


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • A Word a Day

    1995 Quadrant 39 (12): 45.


    Davies, Merryl

    20002 Religion. Introducing Anthropology : 114.


    Dorson, Richard

    Material Components in Celebration: 33.


    Janekovic, Andrea

    1999 Christmas in Croatia . Christmas Magazine (1)5: 56-58.


    Lee, Richard

    1969 Eating Christmas in the Kalahari. Anthropology: 31-34.


    Margrini, C.

    2004 Story in Ritual and Play with Children. Liturgy , 19(1):53.


    Radman, Nina

    1998 A Croatia Christmas. World & I (13)(12): 127-136.



    2003 Curriculum Review Col. 43: 6-7.


    Trifkovic Srdjan

    1993 Rivalry Between Germany and Italy in Croatia . The Historical Journal 36(4): 879-904.


Contact Jim Aimers | ©2004 Miami University