How Croatia celebrates Easter‌ – customs and food

Easter eggs
Pisanice (Easter eggs) decorated by our colleague CAM

Uskrs (Easter) is a big holiday in Croatia. There are so many Easter customs in Croatia that it is impossible to remember all of them.

Some of the Croatian Easter traditions we summarized are common across the country, and others are specific to certain regions, cities, and villages. You can learn more about other Croatian holidays here.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

What are the Croatian Easter customs?

Easter eggs as gifts

In Croatia, there is a custom of giving uskršnja jaja (Easter eggs), also known as pisanica, as gifts to close friends and family since they symbolize life. This is common for people in love. In Dubrovnik, girls would give Easter eggs to their fiancés. This gesture symbolizes happiness, love, and welfare in their future life.

Girls would also bake braids out of dough and give them to their mothers to nurture a good relationship. Giving Easter eggs is also common in Međimurje and Podravina, as well as other parts of Croatia.

[Read: How to buy flour in Croatia]

Bonfire called vuzmenice

In the northwest part of Croatia, people prepare uskrsni krijes (Eastern bonfire) called vuzmenice on the night of Holy Saturday.

In the evening, people gather in front of the church and make vuzmenice. They light the fire using only rocks and no matches. Villages then compete to make the biggest and most beautiful fire. Villagers sing Easter songs and hang out all night.

Vuzem means Uskrs (Easter) in the northern part of Croatia.

[Read: The 3 Croatian dialects: Što, Kaj, and Ča]

Making of čegrtaljke

In Dalmatia, people play music with an instrument called čegrtaljke or klepetaljke. Čegrtaljka is a wooden board with a small wheel connected to metal teeth and percussion. This mechanism allows čegrtaljka to produce a sound when it is ridden on the ground or other straight surfaces.

Food that Croatians prepare for Easter

Easter food for Good Friday

In Croatia, we eat a lot of delicious food during the days surrounding Easter. On Veliki petak (Good Friday), we don’t eat meat or fatty food. We usually eat only fish. On the coast, people prepare sea fish such as bakalar (cod). In continental Croatia, we usually prepare freshwater fish such as šaran (carp).

Here is a delicious recipe for preparing carp in cornflour, a traditional Easter meal from Međimurje. Here is a delicious recipe for preparing cod called bakalar na bijelo.

[Read: A guide to buying Adriatic fish at the market]

Easter food for Easter

Easter is reserved for true food hedonism. The food that we eat on Easter isn’t prepared only on Velika subota (Holy Saturday) but also a few days before too.

Breakfast

Almost everywhere in Croatia, the tradition is to eat šunka (ham), Easter eggs, francuska salata (French salad), homemade bread, and traditional cakes for breakfast. We also eat a lot of young onions, radishes, and horseradish. Check out our Croatian cheat sheet for vegetables here.

Easter ham

Some people prepare cooked ham and others prepare it baked in bread. Cooked ham is easier to prepare. You only have to cook it in water with some spices. While baking it, first you have to prepare dough for bread. Then you wrap the ham with the dough and bake it.

Here is a recipe for juicy cooked ham, and here is a recipe for ham baked in bread.

Pinca

Pinca is a traditional Eastern sweet bread prepared all over Croatia. On Easter morning, it is served with ham. People call it sirnica in Istria and Dalmatia, jajarica in Zagorje, Prigorje, and Turopolje, and pinca in other parts of Croatia. It is made of a simple dough made of wheat, butter, yeast, and eggs.

What makes it special is a carefully selected combination of fragrant spices such as orange and lemon peel, rum, rose oil, prosecco, or kruškovec (a rakija made of pears). An olive branch blessed on Cvjetnica (Palm Sunday) can be placed on the top of the pinca. Here is its recipe.

Lunch

For lunch, we eat pileća juha (chicken soup), purica s mlincima (turkey with mlinci), janjetina (lamb), odojak (suckling pig), and different meat roasts. View how to buy meat in Croatia here. We also eat the leftovers for breakfast.

Desserts

For dessert, we eat traditional cakes such as gibanica, kuglof, or rožata in Dalmatia. Gibanica is a cake made of flour and eggs that can also include walnuts, poppy, carob, or cheese. Kuglof is a sweet bread with cacao and raisins. You can view some of these cake recipes here.

Rožata is a sweet dessert made of many eggs, popular in Dubrovnik, that is similar to flan. Here is a recipe for preparing rožata.

How Croatians decorate Easter eggs

Dyeing eggs for Easter has been a tradition in Croatia for more than 600 years. Old customs include dyeing eggs using natural techniques. Eggs can be cooked together with certain ingredients to dye their shells different colors.

The traditional natural ingredients you can use to dye eggs are:

  • Blue – purple cabbage, black grapes
  • Brown – strong coffee, walnut shells, black tea
  • Green – young spinach, a parsley
  • Orange – black onion shells, a carrot, chili powder, red pepper, saffron, turmeric
  • Red – onion shells, pomegranate juice
  • Pink – beetroot, cranberry juice, grape juice

The most common color used for decorating eggs in the Christian tradition is red. See what each color symbolizes in the table below.

ColorSymbolism
blackdeath
eternity
fear
ignorance
bluegood health
fidelity
heaven
truth
browngenerosity
harvest
soil
greenfertility
freshness
health
hope
prosperity
wealth
victory of life over death
orangeambition
endurance
strength
pinksatisfaction
success
purplefaith
fast
patience
trust
redcharity
Christ’s torment
efficiency
energy
God’s love
hope
love
spirituality
joy of life
whitebirth
light
joy
purity
spirituality
virginity
wisdom
yellowharvest
light
purity
recognition
reward
youth

How to dye Easter eggs using onion

Easter egg basket
Easter egg basket

There is a fun and creative tradition of dyeing Easter eggs using onion shells. This is a healthy technique that uses no artificial colors. Onion shells leave a nice dark red color during cooking. The leaves of various plants are used to leave shapes on the eggs during cooking.

For dyeing eggs using onion shells, you will need:

  • Piece of clothing or cotton wool
  • Small basket or saucer
  • Eggs
  • Grass
  • Leaves of various plants
  • Nylon socks
  • Oil or a piece of bacon
  • Purple onion shells
  • Pot
  • Ribbon
  • Scissors
  • Water

Below is a tutorial for my favorite method of dyeing eggs. If you follow these steps, you can’t go wrong.

1. Pick the leaves

You will need leaves to decorate eggs. They will leave beautiful natural imprints on boiled eggs after you cook them with the onion shells. My advice is to collect smaller leaves because eggs are quite small, so the design will be more expressive.

I like to pick leaves of parsley, clover, wild carrot, dandelion, and other wild spring plants. Sometimes, I even pick small flowers, such as daisies.

[Read: Wild plants you can pick and eat during spring in Croatia]

2. Prepare the eggs

Eggs must be clean. If you have eggs from someone’s farm, check to see if they are free of earth or hay. If they aren’t, wash them with cold water.

I’ve noticed that the brighter (whiter) the eggs are, the redder they will turn out. Imprints from leaves will also be more evident. If they are darker, the red color will turn darker. If they have some dots on the surface, the result can also be interesting. This is not a big wisdom, but it’s good to know because results can differ greatly.

3. Cook onion shells

During the previous days, collect a decent amount of onion shells. The more shells you have, the stronger the color will be. I put at least 4 handfuls of shells in a two-liter pot. You can never put too much onion. I usually put 10-12 eggs into the pot.

Fill half the pot with cold water and put onion shells in it. Let them cook for a while to let out the color. If the water evaporates and doesn’t cover the eggs, add more water.

4. Decorate eggs with leaves

In the meantime, decorate eggs with leaves. I tear off the stem and use only leaves. Lay the leaves on the egg and put the egg into a nylon sock. Tie the sock with the ribbon and cut off the rest of the sock. The egg must be very tightly bound so that the leaves don’t move.

Learning the technique will probably take some time. It is not so complicated if you use only one leaf for one egg. When you use more than one leaf per egg, the eggs may move a lot. Sometimes, I put the egg into the sock first and then put the leaves on the egg. This way, they may move less. Explore what works best for you.

5. Cook eggs in onion shells

Gently put all the eggs in boiled water, one by one. You can pull them down with a spoon or your hand, but very carefully. Be sure not to break them, as the water will fill with foam, and you will need to clean them.

Cook eggs for at least half an hour. Take out one egg from the water to see the color. When you notice they have become a nice red color, take them out of the water. Another option is to remove the pot from the stove to let the eggs cool in the water.

6. Coat the eggs with oil

Take the eggs out of the socks, remove the leaves if you haven’t already, and let them cool down. Take a piece of cloth or cotton wool and coat it with oil. When the eggs have cooled down, rub the oil on their surface.

This will give the eggs a nice glow. The red color will be more vibrant, and the design will be more visible. Instead of oil, you can coat them with a piece of bacon.

7. Put eggs into the basket

Easter eggs are usually put into a small decorative basket or saucer. Pick some grass and lay it on the bottom of the basket. You can also add some wildflowers or leaves as decoration.

Sometimes, it takes me some time to decorate the basket. This small egg art turns out so stunning that it makes it difficult to decide which side of the egg will be the front. It’s a slatka muka (sweet torment)!

Sretan Uskrs!

View our other Croatian holiday posts


Sources:
Uskrsni tjedan by Rajko Tomanić
Bojanje jaja tradicionalnim prirodnim metodama by narodni.net
Uskrsna pinca by Sandra Gašparić
Uskrsni običaji u Dalmaciji, Istri, Dubrovniku i ostatku Hrvatske by Gordana Igrec
Pisanice na našim prostorima by V.I.

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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