The Republic of Croatia is a small Central European and Mediterranean country situated along the Adriatic Sea, across from Italy. This region is also known as the Dalmatian Coast. Bordering countries include Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovenia.
All image photography by Angela McMullen
The opportunity presented itself to visit Croatia in December of 2019 before the world began to come undone.
I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in such orderly surroundings. The people, industries, and landscapes were cohesively arranged, despite a history of extreme political turbulence.
My journey went from south to north, traveling along hairpin roads of scenic mountain ranges, through narrow streets of historic cities, and along roadways skirting the magnificent Adriatic Sea.
Croatian people were very friendly and eager to share stories with anyone willing to listen. Their towns are the epitome of natural charm, filled with architectural masterpieces, quaint little shops and scenic detours.
Their connections to one another appeared to be their greatest strength. Whether conversing over cappuccino or rakija (alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented fruit), they were delighted to pause for an impromptu social.
Celebrating Christmas seemed to be an important part of their culture. While traditions vary in different parts of the world, feasting with loved ones, exchanging gifts, singing, and celebrating the joys of life and Christ are common elements in most cultures. And let’s not forget the extravagant décor. Croatia is no exception when it comes to any of these traditions.
A walk through a Croatian town or city in December is an unforgettable experience. Christmas spills into the cobblestone streets from hotel lobbies, cafes and shops. Shoppers and passersby fill the air with the spirit of Christmas. Candles and garland and ribbons and lights create added elegance to towns, villages and cities.
Even in cold temperatures, Croatians manage to pull a genteel warmth into their streets. Cozy lap blankets in outdoor spaces create comfortable atmospheres for patrons. Warm beverages and warm hospitality soothe the soul.
A warm frothy cappuccino on a chilly afternoon
Some traditions of this predominantly Catholic culture include creating an Advent wreath with four candles symbolizing peace, hope, love, and joy. The wreath itself, symbolizes endlessness and is made from straw or evergreen.
The celebration of Saints occurs on specific days throughout December.
Traditionally, on Christmas Eve, straw is brought into the house as a crop blessing, and a yule log gets lit (traditionally by the father) and is kept burning throughout Christmas Day.
Midnight Mass and the Christmas tree, traditionally decorated on Christmas Eve, are also part of a Croatian Christmas.
Cabbage rolls, codfish, pastries, sausages, roasted meats such as turkey and lamb, cheeses, and prosciutto are traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas Day edibles.
Regional customs and traditions may vary, but the essence of Christmas in Croatia revolves around a spiritual celebration.
One of many bakeries serving decadent Christmas sweets
Gelato choices in a Croatian bakery where fig is a common ingredient
Christmas in the Park
This is a glimpse into the Christmas spirit in the medieval city of Dubrovnic. It's location along the Adriatic Sea makes it an ideal cruise ship destination. This World Heritage Site is the setting for Game of Thrones and has been referred to the Pearl of the Adriatic by English Poet Lord Byron. Within the walled city there are plenty of shops and boutiques, churches, restaurants and cafes. And in December, the walls of this ancient city barely contain the spirit of Christmas.
Christmas in Dubrovnik
Christmas in Dubrovnik. This garland appeared to be made from fresh bay leaves.
Christmas in the Park
Christmas in a hotel lobby
Visiting Croatia at Christmas is definitely worth experiencing. The uncrowded streets, mild temperatures and warm hospitality make it a perfect vacation destination.
For more information on this dynamic country, visit https://www.croatiaweek.com/55-fun-facts-about-croatia/
Angela McMullen is a freelance writer who lives and writes in maritime Nova Scotia, where she is inspired by the rhythm of the Bay of Fundy tides, the pulse of long-standing forests, the expansive fields of the Annapolis Valley, the backdrop of North and South mountain ranges, and the distinction of the four seasons. www.forestwriting.com
Angela's most recent work is a slim book of poetry that captures the pure essence of nature and her unwavering resilience. Infused with undertones of Italian influence, this collection of poetry speaks for itself.