Green is the color of the season
Those traditions celebrate life in this cold period of short days. How exactly do Zagreb homes look like around this time? A walk through the city will give you a glimpse into the local traditions.
Christmas festivities in Zagreb start with lighting the first candle on a giant Christmas wreath around Manduševac
Our first stop is the fountain at the main city square. Near the visitor center at Ban Jelačić Square, you will find the Manduševac fountain. Its round shape inspired the Christmas wreath decoration. A similar decoration is often found in households all over Croatia. The wreath holds 4 candles - each one gets lit on one of the four Sundays up to Christmas.
Have you visited Zagreb around St Nicholas Feast Day, 6th December? In the days before that, you would spot the peculiar sight of street vendors selling golden twigs bundles. Most of the local children (and some adults) will receive one of those. They will be led to believe that the twigs are left by Krampus, a devilish beast that follows St Nicholas on his giftbringing journey. Traditionally, kids used to receive menacing birch rods, but now the thin twigs are painted gold, which makes them a nice home decor.
If your wheat is this abundant, it’s a promising sign for your next year.
The next opportunity to add some green to your home is the 13th December, - St Lucy’s Feast Day. That’s the date most of the households will plant their Christmas wheat. This is connected to the end-of-the-year greenery & its symbolism of eternal life.
We put the wheat seeds in a plate or a bowl, sometimes place a tall candle in the middle, and sprinkle with some water regularly. It grows fast and appears as dense grass. It makes a nice addition to your Christmas table or a decoration placed under the Christmas tree. Around the time of the Croatian 19th-century national renaissance, households began to decorate the wheat with a tricolor string, symbol of the nation. This is still quite common.
If you forget to plant the seeds, you can always stop by the small flower market and cheat a little.
What do you think of when you hear the words Christmas tree? Do you know that, in a way, the traditional Christmas tree was an oak tree, at least a piece of it called badnjak? That word is still the official Croatian name for Christmas Eve thanks to an old custom: families used to take oak logs to church for midnight mass and bring them back to their fireplace after the blessings. Some even believed that the sparks from badnjak were in fact spirits of their ancestors.
Straw is another symbol of the connection between the living family and all of their ancestors.
Zagrebers have always reached for evergreens to decorate their homes around Christmas. Mistletoe has always been the first choice. But when you think about it, that plant is also intervowen with the oak tree magic.
No need to go to the forest - mistletoe can be found at the market.
Huge mistletoe for a perfect kiss - an installation from one of the past editions of Advent Zagreb.
Christmas trees started appearing in Croatian towns, Zagreb included, only in the 19th century. Originally, it wasn’t even a proper tree, just a big evergreen branch. They decorated it with mere paper ornaments, some walnuts, candies wrapped in shiny papers, and that was about it. Over time, the local shop owners started selling attractive glass ornaments. However, the most typical decoration of this region are srčeka (little red hearts).
The city is so colorful and sparkly at this time of the year - it lures you to join the famous Advent Zagreb. What you usually can’t see, is that homes are equally beautiful. All those windows in the busy streets hide cosy interiors filled with green symbols of eternal life that add special warmth to this season.
Find this lovely Christmas tree at St Mark’s Square.
Header image credit: Iva Silla
Author: Iva Silla