Easter traditions are a part of Croatian history, and no holiday would be the same without good old traditions.
Easter is the most important Christian holiday, so deservedly, it has numerous beautiful customs that have been around since ancient times, some specially created for the youngest members of the family.
It all starts with the ‘Cvjetnica.’ ‘Cvjetnica’ is an ‘introduction’ to the Holy Week; it is the Sunday before Easter. Olive branches (or palm tree branches) are blessed in the church on this day. Another beautiful tradition is to fill a washbowl with water, add colorful spring flowers, and wash the face with this scented water. Many people collect spring flowers and fill the vases at home. Lately, there is a new tradition added to the old ones: to post a picture of spring flowers on Instagram #washingfacewithflowers. Keeping up with the modern times!
On Good Thursday, we remember Jesus’ last supper. To proclaim the joy of Sunday that marks the beginning of Easter, all the churches ring their bells. After this, the bells are silenced until midnight on Holy Saturday.
Hvar Island is home to the Procession ‘Za križen’– a traditional night procession that has been held in Hvar for over 500 years, and is inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible World Heritage in Europe. The backbone of the procession is Our Lady’s cry, a text from the 15th century sung by the ‘kantaduri’ – the chosen singers. The procession begins at precisely 10 pm each year, with six processions led by the Crossman, departing from the six parish churches of the central part of the island (from Vrban, Vrboska, Jelsa, Pitve, Vrisnik, and Svirče). Each procession revolves in that vast circle and returns to its starting point at 7 am. The interesting fact is that the processions are not allowed to encounter each other, so the movement needs to be carefully coordinated.
On Good Friday, there is a procession in all Croatian towns. This is the day of fasting. In Coastal Croatia, people mostly prepare seafood – cod being the most popular choice. It is usually cooked ‘bianco’ – with mashed potatoes, olive oil, and garlic. Those who can -prepare it at home and have lunch with their families, and those who work usually eat cod at nearby restaurants in the company of their colleagues. It is not difficult to find, as it is offered everywhere. You might even get a bit of cod and a slice of bread on ‘pjatić’ (small plate) with your espresso in your local café. We said it, it’s everywhere!
At the end of this day – the holiday spirit gets in the air! Everyone rushes to buy groceries and start preparing traditional Easter dishes.
Egg coloring is the most important and the most fun of all customs! There are so many different colors and decorations for egg decoration available nowdays. In the old times, our grandmothers used to color eggshells with onion and beetroot, and make decorative patterns with the parsley.
The most popular Easter sweet in Croatia is the Sirnica (or Pinca in North Croatia). Sirnica is a kind of sweet bread prepared with eggs, oranges, lemons, and sprinkled with large pieces of sugar. These days you can buy Sirnica everywhere in the bakeries and shops, but nothing can replace the homemade, hot from the oven Sirnica made from our grandmother’s recipes. We all remember our grandmothers stressing over Sirnica rising dough, covering it with blankets to keep it warm. Opening the door and getting the cold air inside was considered the worst crime – and kids were well aware of it!
There are thousands of available recipes and the dilemma of which is the best one makes a comeback every year- almost as if we haven’t learnt anything from the previous years. This ‘quest’ for the perfect recipe, and sharing the pictures of our successful and less successful Sirnice is an integral part of our Easter every year!
Our grandmas also used to make the dough braids called ‘garitulice’ for children. The dough is interwoven into a braid, and the colored egg is placed on top.
On Easter day, families bring their food and colored eggs to the Holy Mass, to have it blessed.
You will mostly find the traditional Pašticada with homemade gnocchi, or ham wrapped and baked in bread on the Croatian Easter table. Of course, the celebration cannot go by without a dalmatian green and some prosciutto and cheese.
Although the weather is warm, Easter is mostly celebrated inside, at the family table. Families and friends get together to eat and, in many cases, sing. It’s a fiesta after all!
Children look forward to the traditional ‘egg fight’ where the two ‘fighters’ hit each other eggs until the first egg bursts! Some older gamers are known to have wooden eggs that win every fight. They live their fame until they are discovered. All for good fun!
Of course, the Easter Bunny visits Croatia too and brings loads of chocolates to children, and those who feel like children.
Another tradition in Split is buying small marzipan cakes in the shape of yellow chicks. The most popular ones are sold in one of the oldest dessert shops’ Tradicija’ in the Old Town. The men of the house are traditionally sent with children to buy these, so that the women can have some peace at home for Easter preparations.
Just like every holiday, Easter in coastal Croatia comes with a lot of noise, cheerfulness, and gathering in the Old Town where people drink, toast, chat and enjoy the spring sun.
Unfortunately, this 2020 Easter will be spent in a new different way, #stayingathome with our closest family and remembering these beautiful customs without being able to participate. We hope this kind of Easter will not become the new reality, and wish you peace and wellbeing, and return to all that was good before soon.