Silvestrovo and New Year’s Eve in Croatia

New Year's Eve in Split, Croatia

New Year is a symbol of a fresh start. There is a New Year’s saying ‘Kako dočekate ponoć, takva će vam biti cijela godina’. This means that your whole next year is going to be exactly like your night on New Year’s Eve.

If you’re with a lot of friends on the eve of the new year, your next year will include a lot of time with friends. If you’re having a bunch of great food and drink, you’ll enjoy a lot of great food and drink in the new year. If you’re having sex on New Year’s….I’ll stop here because you know where this is going.

Many New Years’ Eve customs around the world include a common thread of chasing away the evil spirits and invoking love, happiness, and health. Some of the old Croatian rituals still remain today and some are long gone. The best recipe for a successful and happy New Year’s is to combine something old and something new.

In this post, we cover:

Silvestrovo

On December 31, Croatians celebrate Silvestrovo (Saint Sylvester’s Day). Sveti Silvestar (Saint Sylvester) was Roman Pope Sylvester I who lived in the 4th century. The legend says that he cured the emperor Constantine of leprosy.

After this, the church declared him the patron saint of lepers. During his period, Christianity became a free religion and Sylvester helped to spread it around.

Silvestrovo is the day when Croatians prepare a lot of food, clean, and dress up to welcome the new year of prosperity.

Croatian New Year’s Eve

A traditional Croatian New Year’s Eve isn’t much different than the NYE celebrations in the other parts of the world. Our customs include family gatherings and celebrations, dressing up in fancy clothes, decorations, countdown to midnight, fireworks, champagne, and a toast.

Almost every city has some kind of celebration. Bigger cities prepare outdoor celebrations in the main city squares. This usually includes a concerts by popular singers or music groups as a part of Advent. People also like to celebrate at private parties, hotels, and restaurants.

Old Croatian New Year’s Customs

There are some old customs more focused on the New Year than New Year’s Eve.

Goodhearted customs

  • People would say that your health condition would depend on who you first saw on New Year’s Day.
  • Everyone would wash their face in clean water with an apple in it. Money would be put in the apple and that would bring good health and money throughout the whole next year.
  • Children would go out first thing in the morning to congratulate everyone on the New Year.
  • There was a belief that everyone who travels on New Year’s Day will travel throughout the whole year.

Ridiculous and kind of misogynistic customs

  • There was an old belief that if a man visits your house first, it brings happiness. On the other hand, if a woman comes, this brings bad luck. It’s a pretty sexist custom, to say the least.
  • Also, people used to bake feathers into cakes. It was believed that the owner of the first feather to burn would be the first to die. BONKERS.
  • If someone borrows money on the New Year, then he will borrow the money the whole next year.
  • There was a belief that women should wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve to achieve happiness in love.

New Croatian New Year’s Customs

People like to believe that this first day in the year will mark and define their next 365 days. This is why it is very important to welcome New Year’s Eve in a clean and decorated house.

Split has an interesting (and a little crazy) tradition. No matter how cold it is, people play games of “picigin” in the shallow waters of Bačvice beach. Picigin is like hacky sack played with your hands and a tennis ball.

These crazy souls claim that bathing in a cold sea is very healthy for your body. We will take their word for it.

Foods and drinks

According to some old customs, it is not recommended to eat poultry or rabbit. People say that chickens like to “rummage” and rabbits run and carry away happiness. Fish also isn’t recommended because “prosperity will swim away from the house with the fish”. People would prepare lentils. Since they are small and you can eat many of them, it is thought that this brings money to the house.

Odojak (a piglet) or svinjetina (pork) should be served on the New Year’s Eve table. Pigs dig from the front, which suggests that they bring happiness to the house. Sarma (cabbage rolls), pečene kobasice (baked sausages), kulen (a traditional Croatian dried sausage), and pršut (a traditional Croatian ham) will always make an inevitable appearance.

In modern times, francuska salata (French salad) was added to the table as it is a good side dish for almost every main course.

The New Year’s Eve table wouldn’t be complete without good local wine. Some Croatians can’t imagine New Year’s without a nice chocolate cake. Some prefer donuts or salt cake with yeast. Having cake suggests the next year will be “high as the cake”.

Nowadays, anything you put on the table won’t be a waste. People no longer respect food customs to that extent, but some things have become routine. You can be sure that most Croatians will still prepare sarma, but youth are more liberal. They just like to go out and party like the world is about to end.

Christmas wheat

Croats have a tradition of sowing wheat on Sveta Barbara (December 4) or Sveta Lucija (December 13). This wheat is called božićna pšenica (Christmas wheat). This custom symbolizes your prosperity in the new year. If the wheat grows beautifully and is healthy and tall, the next year is going to be rich. If your wheat is yellow-ish and short , the year won’t be so good.

Most people say that it is better to sow it on Sveta Lucija. They claim that 12 days until Christmas is enough for wheat to grow and see the result. Historically, people sow the wheat on a small amount of soil in a small saucer. The modern custom is to put it on cotton instead of soil.

In the middle of the wheat, people would put a small glass with three candles. The first candle is lit on Christmas Eve, the second on Christmas and the third on New Year’s Eve. These candles symbolize the Holy Trinity.

Today people put just one candle with the pattern of trobojnica (Croatian flag color pattern) as a symbol of Croatian identity. If you don’t have a candle, you can put a tricolor ribbon around it. Wheat is usually thrown out on Epiphany, but it can serve as a nice decoration as long as it lasts.

You can learn more about the tradition as well as how to grow Croatian Christmas wheat here.

What are your New Year’s traditions? Share them with us in the comments.

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2 thoughts on “Silvestrovo and New Year’s Eve in Croatia

  1. Dr. Gerald Olivas
    December 22, 2020 @ 11:09 pm

    Hi, What Istria region would be the best for wines? I am thinking close to the border with Slovinia, more northwest. May be looking into a place to retire in that area. The little town of Buje looks nice. Thanks.

    {reply}

    • Expat in Croatia
      January 3, 2021 @ 1:08 pm

      Hi Dr. Olivas,

      The entire Istria county is great for wine, but I am partial to the northern part bordering Slovenia. Buje is a very nice town. 🙂

      Regards,

      Sara

      {reply}

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