Croatian carnivals and tradition of fašnik (poklade)

masked parade
Image by Ben_Kerckx

UPDATED: 24.1.2024.

Like Venice, New Orleans, and Brazil, Croatia has those days in the year when people sing, dance, and celebrate under the liveliest masks. Our carnival is called fašnik or poklade, and it falls at the end of winter – in 2024, on February 13.

Croatian fašnik always includes incredible performances with lots of laughter, maintaining specific traditions in different Croatian regions. There is also always plenty of food- which means lots of krafne. Happenings can be quite outlandish if you ask me.

This article presents the Croatian customs related to fašnik and the most significant carnivals across the country.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

Fašnik (poklade) – Croatian carnivals and tradition of masking

What is Croatian fašnik or poklade?

Fašnik or poklade (Shrove Tuesday, carnival) is a custom of dressing up and wearing masks. It falls on the day before Pepelnica (Čista srijeda – Ash Wednesday). Pepelnica is a Christian memorial day when Lent begins. Lent is a period of 40 days before Easter, during which Sundays are not counted.

Although fašnik is marked in one day, it is usually celebrated up to a month before Lent. During this time, carnivals, masquerade parades, and costumed dance performances are held throughout Croatia. The peak of the celebration is the fašnik day itself which always falls on Tuesday, but the date changes yearly.

The Croatian language has many synonyms for the word carnival, including:

  • Bake
  • Fašenk
  • Fašnik
  • Fašnjek
  • Karneval
  • Karnevo
  • Krnjeval
  • Krnoval
  • Maskenbal
  • Mačkare
  • Maškare
  • Mesopust
  • Poklade
  • Pokladi
  • Pust

[Read: 14 Croatian words that change around the country]

The history of fašnik – how the custom was born

In the 9th century, the church declared fast on Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The Sunday before Ash Wednesday was called bezmesna nedjelja (dominica carnis privii; meatless Sunday). People called it karneval, mesopust, or bezmesje. Meso means meat in Croatian, and bez means without.

In the 15th century, fasting was replaced with an opposite custom – the enjoyment of food, drink, entertainment, and masking. This is how fašnik (carnival) was born. After the period of abundance, we should be humble and modest before Easter.

How is fašnik celebrated in Croatia

Carnival days are a long tradition celebrated across Croatia. The point of the fašnik is to dress up and mask as someone else. You can become any persona you like – from a king or your favorite actress to an animal or devil. Some people buy masks in local stores since it is the simplest way. If you make a homemade costume, then you are considered a superstar.

Carnival parades take place on the streets of Croatian cities. Masked people form a parade and do various performances. In many cities, you must apply in advance to join the parade. Dressing up and pretending to be someone else can be incredibly fun. The point is to be silly and laugh a lot.

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Did you know?

The tradition of fašnik encompasses finding the culprit for the troubles that happened last year. On the final day of fašnik – fašnik itself, people symbolically burn a puppet generally called Fašnik. They find him guilty of all the last year’s evil. Puppet’s name may vary according to the Croatian region.

Croatian carnivals consist of numerous events. There is something for everyone. Programs include masked parades called povorka, fašnik customs, performances, movies, DJs, exhibitions, dances, concerts, carnival buses, traditional games, and local food and drink. There are also entertainment programs for children.

Some carnival processions are satirical in the first place. People wear provocative signs and illustrations to tease the ones who deserve it.

How children celebrate fašnik in Croatia

Fašnik is particularly engaging for children since it stimulates the imagination. Teachers and educators teach children how to make masks in Croatian schools and kindergartens. It is an excellent way to develop their focus and creativity. Schools usually organize performances for fašnik. Sometimes children join a carnival in their city.

[Read: International kindergartens, elementary and primary schools in Croatia]

A silly custom that was popular when I was a child is called maškari. It is similar to trick or treating at Halloween. Children wear costumes and masks and go to maškare. They may go alone or in a group and tour houses one by one until they get tired.

They ring doorbells and sing a maškare song. A song can differ depending on the Croatian region or even the city. After singing, people give them money or sometimes candies.

Twenty years ago, Croatian streets were full of children-maškare. It was wonderful! Now you can see only a few of them. Every time little maškare ring my doorbell, I get excited. I rush to the door and fool around with them. They are simply adorable!

Maškare songs we sang in Zagorje

Bedekovčina

Debela repa, suhi klin (fat turnip, dry wedge)
Gospođo, dajte peneze sim (madam, give us the money)
Ak nete dali, sve bumo pokrali (if you don’t, we will steal everything)
Ak bute dali, niš nemo hkrali (if you do, we won’t steal anything)

Stubičke toplice

Danas su maškare (today is maškare)
Veseli je dan (it is a happy day)
Dajte nam bilo kaj (give us anything)
I sterajte nas van (and send us away)

Who are zvončari?

Zvončari (bellmen) are men covered with folk costumes made of sheepskin and bells who represent the Rijeka region. It is believed that zvončari dispel the evil forces of winter, protect livestock from spells, and invoke fertility. In 2009, zvončari were added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

[Read: UNESCO monuments of culture and nature in Croatia]

Zvončari’s customs may differ in design depending on the village. Some have small bells around their waists, uncovered faces, and a hat with greenery and paper flowers called krabujosnica. Others wear big masks and one big bell.

By moving in different ways, zvončari ring bells and produce a sound. They must be skilled men in good shape, able to walk miles. The movements they make to ring bells are pretty demanding.

If you want to see zvončari, visit Riječki karneval. I was afraid of them watching their performances on TV in childhood. They look scary and silly at the same time.

Traditional Croatian fašnik carnivals you should visit

Below is a list of the most significant carnivals in Croatia. Most of them are held during winter, but you can come across a few in summer (Pag, Pakoštane).

Although smaller cities are not on our list, they also organize carnivals. If you are nearby, visit the ones in Crikvenica, Krk, Kutina, Labin, Lovran, Metković, Vinkovci, or Zabok.

#1 Dubrovački karnevo, Dubrovnik

The traditional Dubrovački karnevo is held for the 24th time in a row. Their motto is Dođite svakako i svakakvi (Come by all means).

Date: January 20 – February 11, 2024

View Dubrovački karnevo’s program here.

#2 Đakovački bušari, Đakovo

The manifestation Dakovački bušari is the biggest carnival in Slavonija, held for the 30th time. It was named after buše, traditional masks similar to zvončari that chase away the evil winter spirits and invoke spring.

Date: February 3 – February 4, 2024

Facebook

View Đakovački bušari’s program here.

#3 Lastovski poklad, Lastovo

The legend says that Moors sieged Korčula city in the Middle Ages. They sent an emissary to Lastovo to demand its residents surrender. Lastovo’s residents captured him. Moors sent ships to Lastovo, but lousy weather dispersed them. Residents sat the emissary on a donkey, leading him through the village to mock him. They lowered him from the Pokladareva grža hill in the evening on a long rope. Then they burnt him surrounded by pealing bells and cries.

The tradition of Lastovo poklad has continued since then. It has specific rules which make it unique in the world. The Ministry of Culture declared the Lastovski poklad protected as an intangible cultural asset of Croatia in 2008.

Date: January 6 – February 14, 2024

Facebook

View more information on Lastovski poklad here.

#4 Međimurski fašnik, Čakovec

In 2024, Međimurski fašnik will be held for the 60th year. It is the major carnival event in the Međimurje region.

Date: February 10 – February 11, 2024

View more information on Međimurksi fašnik here.

#5 Murterske bake, Murter

The tradition of Murterske bake, also called Dani o’ bak, dates back 130 years. All costumes used in this carnival are handwork. Costumes were simple initially – men dressed up in women and women in men. The carnival has grown over time and can now be compared to a theater show.

Date: February, 2024

Website | Facebook

#6 Opatijski karneval, Opatija

Opatijski karneval is specific for a traditional race called balinjerada. Small handmade vehicles made of plywood and ball bearings race down the slope of Opatija’s main street. It also includes kukalka, a sea version of the game Sinjska alka.

[Read: Sinjska alka – Croatia’s annual competition in Sinj]

Balinjerada

Kukalka

Date: January 17 – February 14, 2024

View more information about the program here.

#7 Paški karneval, Pag

Pag organizes a summer and winter carnival. During the winter carnival, they organize dances called tanci every Saturday. The summer carnival is held last weekend in July, and it aims to enrich the tourist season.

Date: January 13 – February 13, 2024

Website

View a program of Paški karneval here.

#8 Pulski karneval, Pula

Pula karneval says that the 6th season begins when maškare take over the city keys.

Date: January 17 – February 13, 2024

View a program of Pulski karneval here.

#9 Riječki karneval, Rijeka

Riječki karneval is the most famous carnival in Croatia, often compared to the ones in Venice and Brazil. The carnival combines elements of European carnivals and ancient Slavs folklore and mythology. It was founded in 1982.

The peak of the festival includes masked processions of people coming from different parts of Croatia and abroad, including zvončari. Participants wear traditional and modern costumes and often make fun of the current political situation in the country.

Date: January 17 – February 14, 2024

Website | Facebook

#10 Samoborski fašnik

What Riječki karneval is to the Croatian coast, Samoborski fašnik is to northern Croatia. The first recorded carnival manifestation in Samobor was held in 1827. The carnival’s theme changes every year, and it is always satirical. However, the motto is the same: Bedaki noriju saki dan, a pametni samo na Fašnik (Fools go crazy every day and smart people only at fašnik).

Date: February 2 – February 13, 2024

Website | Facebook

#11 Turopoljski fašnik, Velika Gorica

poster for Turopoljski fašnik
2023 Turopoljski fašnik’s program on the window of a cafe bar in Velika Gorica

Turopljski fašnik was established more than 100 years ago. If you are in Zagreb, this is the closest significant Croatian carnival you can visit.

Date: January 29 – February 13, 2024

Facebook

Traditional fašnik food and donuts

The tradition of preparing fašnik food depends on the Croatian region, but almost everyone prepares krafne (donuts).

In Hrvatsko zagorje, we eat kiselo zelje (sour cabbage), prisiljeno zelje – cabbage stewed with garlic, tomato soup, cream, and cumin with grated potatoes, krpice sa zeljem (pastry with stewed cabbage), and dry pork chin. The same applies to Zagreb, where we also eat grits, beef, turkey, and goose.

krpice sa zeljem
Krpice sa zeljem prepared with homemade krpice (pasta)

Samobor and Velika Gorica offer garlic sausages with muštarda, a piquant sauce made of mustard seeds and sweet must, and bermet, a liqueur made of red wine and selected ingredients of fruits and herbs. Slavonins prepare meat, sausages, čvarci (pork rind), dried meat, buhtle (sourdough cake), and scones with čvarci.

Kastavština and Ćićarija are known for kroštule and a sweet specialty called presnac. It is made of dough, old bread, milk, eggs, raisins, and cinnamon. Residents of Gorski kotar prepare povatica made of yeast dough with cheese and apple or walnut filling. Split is known for kroštule and fritule, and Dubrovnik for rožata.

[Read: Christmas cakes traditionally prepared for winter holidays in Croatia, including fritule, kroštule, and rožata]

Fašnik donuts – krafne

Homemade krafne are inevitable in every part of Croatia. Krafne are dough baked in deep fat or lard, possibly filled with chocolate or jam. A crumb of lemon and orange peel, vanilla, or rum makes them smell irresistible. The more puffed the dough is, the more alluring krafne are. Traditional Croatian krafne have a straight white border in the middle.

View a recipe for homemade Croatian krafne here. Dobar tek!

View other places to visit in Croatia


Sources:
Samoborski fašnik
Riječki karneval
Povijest poklada by samobor.hr
Pučka jela i običaji za poklade by Irena

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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