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Epiphany (Bogojavljenje, Sveta tri kralja) in Croatia

Three Kings - Epiphany holiday

Bogojavljenje (Epiphany) or Sveta tri kralja (Three Kings’ Day) is one of the oldest Catholic holidays and a national holiday in Croatia. Epiphany is celebrated every year on January 6.

On this day, Christians celebrate the revelation of God’s incarnation as Jesus Christ. Epiphany comes from the Greek word “επιφάνεια”, which means appearance or announcement.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

Who were the three kings

According to the Evanđelje po Mateju (Gospel of Matthew), three kings are biblical Magi who came to Jerusalem to worship the newborn Jesus. It isn’t known where exactly they came from except that they came from the east. Some historians guess that they were from Arabia, Mesopotamia, and India.

They followed the zvijezda repatica (star of Bethlehem) which led them to little Jesus who was with his mother Marija (St. Mary) and father Josip (St. Joseph).

The three kings were:

  • Gašpar (Caspar) or Sveti Gašpar (Saint Caspar) – “Kaspar” meaning “treasurer” in Persian
  • Melkior (Melchior) or Sveti Melkior (Saint Melchior) – “Melchior” meaning “the king of the light” in Hebrew – He is the patron saint of travelers and World Youth Day.
  • Baltazar (Balthazar) or Sveti Baltazar (Saint Balthazar) – “Bel-tus-assar” meaning “God protects his life” in Assyrian – He is the patron saint of patients with epilepsy.

The three kings are the representatives of the pagan nations. God invited them to his kingdom to announce the birth of Jesus Christ. The three kings are shown as men of different ages (young man, mature man, and old man) and races. Melchior represents Europe, Balthazar Africa, and Caspar Asia. These were the only continents known at the time.

The gifts from three kings to little Jesus

Each of the three kings brought a present for little Jesus. Their gifts were symbolic and their visit was a sign that the Savior of all the people was born.

The gifts included:

  • Mirta (myrtle), which represents Jesus as a man
  • Aromatični tamjan (aromatic frankincense), which represents Jesus as a God
  • Zlato (gold), which represents Jesus as a king

How Croatians celebrate Epiphany

One of the Croatian customs on the Epiphany is the blessing of water and salt. According to the old custom, women come to the church for water blessed by the priest. Then, men would spray the house, farm, fields, vineyards, orchards, and cattle with this blessed water.

There is a belief that this practice protects from evil forces, bad weather, disease, and misfortunes. The blessed water must not be spilled, so they would throw the extra water into the fire. If the cattle got sick, they would give them a small amount of blessed salt.

Nowadays, Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas holidays and celebrations. On this day, everyone removes their Christmas decorations and lights and takes down their tree. Usually, you’ll see a big pile of Christmas trees accumulating next to the dumpsters on this day.

Everyone rests and does the bare minimum. This is also the day when Advent celebrations end. [Read: Advent celebrations across Croatia]

Chalking the door for house blessing
Image by Montreal Cathedral

Family Blessings in Croatia

In Croatia, there is an old tradition called “blagoslov obitelji” (family blessing) when a priest visits families and blesses the house and the family. Family blessings start on St. Stephens Day (December 26) and usually last until Epiphany. The priest comes accompanied by the bell ringer and another assistant. [Read: Sveti Stjepan, Štefanje (St. Stephen’s Day)]

The whole family should be together when the priest comes to visit them. It is necessary to clean the house before the visit. When the priest comes, first he blesses the house and the family.

After the prayer, someone gives him a money donation for the church in the name of the family. Sometimes people offer him food or a drink. The old custom was to give him food, cakes, or fruits, but now everyone just gives money.

The priest may also write the three kings’ initials (“G”, “M”, and “B”) and the current year on the house doors. They put cross signs between these three letters as a sign of blessing. Nowadays, a priest usually puts a sticker with a holy icon with these letters on the doors. It is a modern version used instead of writing with chalk.

Do you celebrate Epiphany? What are your family traditions?

View other holiday posts

A full list of Croatian holidays is available here.

Please note: All information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. It is important to understand that Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change and each personal case is individual and different rules may apply. For legal advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, you must consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant. We can recommend one if you contact us.

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