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Find out more about Christmas traditions and dishes in Istria and Dalmatia!

Find out more about Christmas traditions and dishes in Istria and Dalmatia!

Invoking Christmas joys with a rich table of delicious food

Christmas, the happiest time of the year, a time for family gatherings, decorating the Christmas tree and preparing delicious food. The tradition of Christmas customs in Croatia is long and rich. Each region in Croatia has its own specific customs, so let's take a look at some of the well-known traditional customs in Istria, Dalmatia and along the coast.

In an Istrian home on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the house must be beautifully arranged and cleaned. Christmas starts in the kitchen on the Christmas Eve, or as the locals call it “The Will of God". In addition to family gatherings, dinners with traditional fasting meals, family members would go to midnight mass, one of the most solemn masses of the year and the only one celebrated at midnight.

The fireplace gives a special warmth to the Christmas home atmosphere. Both in Istria and in Dalmatia, in houses that had a fireplace, it was customary to bring a large stump on Christmas Eve. It was supposed to smolder, but was not allowed to be extinguished by any means from Christmas Eve until the feast of the holy Three Kings. Special attention was paid to the Christmas stump. Across Istria and Dalmatia, it was customary to put everything that was eaten for dinner on the stump. Even today, this custom is cherished in some areas.


On the same evening, at Christmas Eve, the Christmas tree was decorated. Along with the Christmas tree, it is a tradition to make a nativity scene, which will remain in homes until Epiphany. It is built in the shape of a stable or cave with figurines of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and placed under the Christmas tree. In Dalmatia, the usual Christmas candles have been indispensable since ancient times. It was usual for Croats to make a candle called “vostanica”, especially for this occasion, which is usually placed in a glass filled with wheat next to a bowl with blessed water and a sprig of rosemary, to extinguish after Christmas lunch.

In addition to meatless dishes, the traditional Istrian Christmas Eve fasting cuisine is also distinctive for the cakes that are traditionally prepared on Christmas Eve. It was customary to prepare “fritule” and donuts or “ustipke” on Christmas Eve. Fritule are the usual Christmas sweets in Istria and along the coast.

In Dalmatia, from Christmas Eve to the Feast of the Three Kings, there would be a Christmas cake on the table called "bozicnjak", round with a hole in the middle and with various decorations on it. In some places in Dalmatia, if there were more cakes like this, they would be placed on top of each other, and an olive branch or a candle would be stuck through the hole in the middle.


Fritule on the photo were made by Kristina from our office :)

On Christmas Day, Istrian households would prepare fuzi pasta, kapuz or cabbage with meat, and for dessert, other than “fritule” there are also the famous Istrian Christmas cakes “cukarini”. In Dalmatia, as in the rest of Croatia, there are mostly dishes such as French salad, smoked ham, smoked cheese, cold cuts, sarma, and a variety of Christmas walnut cakes.

Christmas carols are associated with the custom of congratulatory patrols or carols. In some parts along the Croatian coast, people went from house to house between Christmas and Epiphany. Usually the “carolers” would be men, who would visit houses in villages, singing Christmas songs, and the hosts would welcome them in their homes, and treat them with food, wine and cakes.

From village to village, congratulatory and processional customs of congratulations and singing differ. Nowadays, renewed carolling customs exist only in Kaldir and Gologorica, but they used to be much more widespread. The tradition of carolling has been preserved in Dubrovnik and its surroundings to this day, and carols are sung on the night of Christmas Eve and New Year´s Eve.

Christmas is a time of joy and anticipation, so if you have chosen Croatia as your destination to celebrate this magical holiday, we are sure that you will be filled with joy, happiness and with a variety of food you will certainly not remain indifferent.

Kristina Nikesic

+385 1 222 70 50