Untold Stories

Heartshaped Souvenir

People often ask me if there is any typical souvenir from Zagreb. The answer could not be any easier. Oh, yes. There is a simple yet unique souvenir in this region of Croatia. Even better - it’s usually shaped like a heart. Doesn't that make it a wonderful gift for your loved ones back home?

We call the souvenir licitar heart, or simply - srčeko. They were among the first attractive souvenirs of the region, and they are still popular.

Srčeko is a cute local word for a small heart. Licitar can refer to those souvenirs, or the very craftsmen or craftswomen who create them. It takes a lot of dedication to make dozens of licitars each day, colour them, dry them, decorate them, and pack them, in this busy world we live in these days. 

It takes a lot of time for a single heart to be shop-ready. Luckily enough, you never really produce just one - each heart has a lot of siblings

Although licitars can come in many colours and shapes, they are usually red. Most commonly, they come in the shape of a heart. They say that it used to be a token of love from a boy to a girl. Once she received it, if she kept it close, it meant the affection was mutual. If she took a bite, it meant that she wasn’t interested. 

Don’t worry about her. It’s ok to bite it, since licitar is - a cookie! Theoretically, you could eat it. Well, I tried out that theory as a kid, and trust me, they taste terrible. Please, take my advice and don’t eat your licitar! They are made out of dough, but the kind of dough meant to last and endure everything. Everything except for water. Don't get it wet, and its magic will last forever.

Licitar hearts are often used as decorations for Christmas trees in these parts. All of us from northwestern Croatia have at least a few of those in the Christmas ornaments box. Many families have a couple of bitten-off-hearts because curious kids (like me) simply had to try them out (and regretted it). Those poor hearts with a bite are usually in the back of the tree, where no one can spot their imperfection. 

A pretty stall that sells traditional souvenirs contains days and days of hard and dedicated work

Instead of a heartbite, licitar hearts can have heartbeat, too. At that moment, when you get one from a souvenir shop, you’re taking home a centuries-long tradition of crafting them, the whole history of the Central European gingerbread craft, the symbolism of love, friendship, and the memory of all those fairs dotted by licitar shops throughout centuries.

The answer to the question from the beginning of this text is as simple as it gets: there is a perfect souvenir. It’s a little red heart that will forever breathe life into your memories of Zagreb.

Header image credit: Iva Silla

Author: Iva Silla