Each December, families and individuals around Croatia grow Božićna pšenica (Christmas wheat) in their homes. Packets of wheat grains start to appear in shops in early December in preparation.
Growing Christmas wheat is an old Croatian Christmas custom. The wheat is usually grown in small saucers and is used as a holiday decoration. The wheat also has symbolic meanings.
- Circle of life (death and rebirth)
- New life
- Renewal of life
- Blessing of the harvest
- What the new year will hold for you
There is a belief that the look and height of the wheat determines what the harvest will be like in the next year. If the wheat grows thick, tall, and green, the year will be fruitful and the harvest good. If the wheat grows weak and pale, the harvest will be bad. It is also used as a metaphor for your prosperity in the new year.
This green grass gives a spring-like touch to every home in the middle of winter.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- Where this Christmas tradition comes from
- When to sow your Božićna pšenica
- How to properly grow Božićna pšenica
- How to decorate Božićna pšenica
- How to prepare wheat grass juice
The tradition of growing Božićna pšenica originates from Christianity and is related to the Sveta obitelj (Holy family). Mary and Joseph were running from Herod’s soldiers who persecuted them. They came across a farmer sowing wheat. Mary asked the farmer to tell the soldiers that they already passed by.
When the soldiers came, a miracle happened. The wheat grew very large very quickly. Since it usually takes several months for wheat to grow in a field, it gave the soldiers the impression that Mary and Joseph had passed by a long time ago. As a result, the soldiers gave up the chase after Mary and Joseph.
According to tradition, Božićna pšenica should be started on one of these 2 days:
- Sveta Barbara (Saint Barbara’s Day)
- Sveta Lucija (Saint Lucy’s Day)
Saint Barbara’s Day is celebrated on December 4. Sveta Barbara (Saint Barbara) represents a symbol of spring in the middle of winter. It is believed that she is a messenger of Christmas when light and life win.
In the past, people commonly sowed Christmas wheat on Saint Barbara’s Day for practical reasons. Since there was no proper heating at the time, they sowed the wheat early so that there would be enough time for it to grow before Christmas.
In addition to sowing wheat, there is one more tradition related to Sveta Barbara. A branch of cherry with buds should be put into water and left in a warm and bright place. The branch will bloom throughout the month and serve as a nice decoration on the table.
Saint Barbara is the protector of miners, farmers, smelters, and gunners.
Saint Lucy’s Day is celebrated on December 13. Sveta Lucija (Saint Lucy) is a symbol of light in winter darkness. Lucy comes from the Latin word “lux, lucis” which means “light”.
Saint Lucy announces Christmas as the birthday of light. These 12 days between Saint Lucy and Christmas are called Lucijini dani (Lucy’s days). The winter solstice on December 21 falls during this period. After the solstice, days become longer and there is more light during the day.
In modern times, people sow Božićna pšenica on Saint Lucy’s Day more often than on Saint Barbara’s Day. Twelve days until Christmas is enough for wheat to grow and become lush.
Saint Lucy is the protector of sight, glass makers, scribes, weavers, porters, tailors, blacksmiths, and farmers.
Wheat grains can be purchased at grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and at other shops in early December. It is packed in small boxes or packets like the the one below.
There are several ways to sow the wheat. Below are the steps for sowing and growing Christmas wheat successfully.
- Wheat grains
- Saucer(s) or bowl(s)
- Potting soil or cotton wool
#1 Prepare the wheat
Before you sow the wheat, it is recommended to leave the grains in lukewarm water overnight. This will help the wheat germinate faster. Dry them on a paper towel or dish cloth before sowing.
#2 Sow the wheat
The Christmas wheat is usually sown in small saucers or bowls. Put a layer of soil on the bottom of the saucer. Cover the entire bottom with wheat grains. Put another tiny layer of soil on top of the wheat.
Instead of potting soil, you can use cotton wool. In this case, you don’t have to cover the wheat with another layer.
Give the wheat just a small amount of water.
#3 Put the wheat in a well-lit place
Place the saucers somewhere with lots of light. It shouldn’t be too hot because the wheat could dry out. Don’t put it to the direct sun. It is best to put it near a window with indirect light.
#4 Water the wheat every day
Water the wheat every day, but don’t give it too much. One or two tablespoons of water is enough. You should only moisturize the soil, not drench it.
If you want, you can also cover the wheat with aluminum foil until it sprouts. It will keep the wheat wet and warm. If you choose to cover the wheat with foil, remove the foil when it starts to germinate.
#5 Shorten the tops of wheat
The wheat will not grow higher than 20 centimeters. Feel free to trim the wheat so that it is all even.
When the wheat grows, it is usually decorated. The tradition is to put the Croatian tricolor (called “hrvatska trobojnica”) around the wheat. The tricolor is a ribbon with red, white, and blue stripes.
Some people place a candle in the middle of the wheat and then light it on Christmas. Instead of a candle, some use an apple, but this is less common. Some people don’t put anything in the wheat and just use it as a decoration.
In continental Croatia, the tradition is to put apples, nuts, and grains on the table together with the wheat. In Dalmatia, people put oranges and almonds on the table together with the wheat.
So, what do you do with the wheat after Christmas? Sadly, the wheat can only be temporary as it can start to stink due to the accumulated moisture.
Some people give it to the birds and some make a juice out of it. Its leaves are rich with vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, enzymes, amino acids, and cellulose. You may also know this juice as wheat grass juice.
It is easy to prepare. Cut the leaves and put it into a blender together with a desired amount of water. Then, strain the juice through a filter before drinking. You can use this juice as an addition to other homemade juices or smoothies. It will enrich their taste and nutritional value.
To learn about other Croatian holidays, check out this post.