Christmas in Croatia

Sretan Božić! (Merry Christmas). We spent this Christmas with our workaway family and our new friends in Croatia!

The plans have changed for our holiday abroad more times than we can count. We had no clue where we would be, even just a few weeks before.

After we spent our first week here at our workaway, we were invited to spend Christmas with our host family. We have really enjoyed our time here so far and have made new friends that made us feel right at home. So, we decided to stay and spend Christmas in Croatia with them.

Getting into the Christmas Spirit

At the beginning of December, the city of Dubrovnik starts to light up with Christmas spirit. The streets of the old town are decked with Christmas cheer. In Dubrovnik’s old town you will find large ornaments hanging on the main street, Stradun (pictured above). You’ll also see large decorated trees and even chestnuts roasting on an open fire, cue the Christmas songs.

A “Christmas Market”

We had heard a lot about Christmas Markets in Europe and Dubrovnik was supposed to have a small one (according to Google and many blogs we read). Well, to our disappointment, their “Christmas market” was limited to drinks and snacks.

This year, there were no handcrafted ornaments or homemade goods that we could find. We aren’t sure why because we had seen pictures of stands from previous years, including 2020.

Even though there weren’t any stands with homemade trinkets and Christmas goodies, there were still holiday stands, calledKućicas, selling hot wine, homemade rakija, and some delicious Christmas sweets! On the days off that we spent in Dubrovnik’s old town, we made sure to try a new treat during each visit.

Christmas Treats

Around Christmas time, popular food items found at theKućicas include sausages and hot dogs (which we didn’t eat), but other popular items include some delicious sweets like Prikle and mini churros. You probably know what a churro is, however, Prikle is special to Croatia!

Enjoying Prikle in Dubrovnik

Prikle, also known as Fritule, are fried dough balls, similar to a doughnut hole and served warm. The best part is that they are topped with anything from chocolate, to cinnamon sugar, to fruit jams.

We tried some with chocolate drizzled on top, as recommended by the guy at the stand, and we were not disappointed!

We also tried roasted chestnuts for the first time and were surprised by their taste!

They were SO good and almost had a cooked potato texture. Not what we were expecting!

The same style of holiday food stands, or Kućicas, found in Dubrovnik, were also right down the street from the place we were staying. We went out to these stands many times with our new friends over the past couple of weeks, staying warm under the heaters, and trying to figure out what was going on when everyone spoke in Croatian.

Side note: Most people in Croatia speak some English, especially in touristy areas like Dubrovnik. The friends we have made learned some English in school but became more fluent by watching English TV shows and reading books in English.

Prepping for the Holidays

We spent a lot of time in the kitchen the two days before Christmas Eve. Helping to prepare all the food for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we learned how to cook some traditional dishes like Sarmas and prepped platters and side dishes too.

Sarmas are Croatian stuffed cabbage rolls, typically filled with meat and rice. They reminded Sam of a similar Polish dish her great-grandma used to make.

We made vegetarian sarmas with rice, onion, carrot, and mushroom. They were delicious!

Christmas Traditions

This year, Christmas was a bit different for our host family because the husband is normally out to sea. He works on cruise ships and this was his first Christmas home in many years.

In Croatia, it is common to spend Christmas Eve with friends and then spend Christmas Day with family and enjoy a huge lunch.

Many families spend days making little treats to share with friends and family over the holidays. The main ingredients are nuts, raisins, honey, and chocolate.

On Chrismtas Eve, most people do not eat meat (beef/chicken/pig) and are only allowed fish.

Many Croatians attend a midnight mass on Christmas Eve night, as Croatia is a Catholic country.

Although some families have Santa visit them to deliver presents, for some families it’s an angel that comes to deliver the gifts on Christmas Eve night.

In the days following Christmas, the priest from the local church visits every home in the area and blesses the house for the new year.

On Christmas Eve, or Badnjak in Croatian, the kids and young adults often go caroling to friends’ and family’s homes.

There was something about being given an apple and some coins but we are not 100% sure what happens.

We were told we would be caroling with the sons of the family (who are just a few years younger than us) and their friends. But, when the time came, each of the friend’s families had something going on so we couldn’t follow this tradition. Sam was kind of bummed because how cool would that have been? But Ty was pretty happy not to have to sing in front of a bunch of strangers.

Badnjak – Christmas Eve

Instead, on Christmas Eve we continued to help prep the food until we enjoyed a huge lunch with our host family. After lunch, we relaxed for a bit before joining the sons and heading to one of their friend’s homes.

We met the parents of one of our new friends, and even though they didn’t speak any English, they were so welcoming to have us in their home for a bit.

We went out to the littleKućicas for a bit, joining some of our new friends, before bringing everyone back to our host family’s home and hanging out!

Weirdly enough, it was the warmest day of the week and it actually felt nice to be outside (even if it doesn’t seem like it with our heavy coats and scarves!)

One of the family friends brought over a ton of sweets to share. There were all sorts of chocolates and cookies, all homemade by her family.

From half moons cookies to walnut-stuffed pastries, there was so much to try and it was all so good!

Some very common Croatian treats that we tried were vanilla crescents, makovnjača (a poppyseed stuffed roll), and orahnjača (a walnut stuffed roll)

We made oreo balls to share with our new friends and host family. It was then requested that they be made again for New Years because everyone loved them!

Božić – Christmas Day

On Christmas Day, we had a slow morning.The main (and only) event of the day, was a HUGE, but delicious, family lunch. Sam went upstairs to help prep last-minute things for our second holiday lunch.

Our host family has an outdoor kitchen as well and in this were making a special meal cooked in a traditional method called Peka.

Since this was a meat dish (and there was a ton of other foods) we didn’t try any, but it was really cool to see how it was made.

Most of the food served on Christmas Day was the same as the previous one, but it was all so delicious that it didn’t matter.

Along with our main dishes, there were platters with olives, pickles, dips, and spreads. Various cheeses and delicious bread. We had different salads and side dishes.

There were mashed potatoes and a favorite of one of the sons, the father of our host family made a dish that is called something we aren’t sure how to spell. It is made with peas, carrots, tomato sauce, and fresh dill. It’s served warm and was very yummy!

After our huge lunch, everyone was ready for a nap, so we did just that. Then, we spent the afternoon watching some Christmas movies like the old Rudolph. We talked to family and had a cozy afternoon in.

We hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

Until next time,

Sam and Ty

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