Folk Customs – Easter

It’s Easter – one of the biggest Catholic holidays! This calls for the first episode dedicated to Croatian folk customs. Listen to the episode or scroll down to read the blog post.

In Croatia, both Easter and Easter Monday are holidays and there’s usually a week-long spring break for school kids around Easter. The majority of people in Croatia are Roman-Catholics and there will be an increased number of participants in various ceremonial masses around Easter. In fact, traditions related to church alone are very interesting and vivid. Especially if you look back through time into the past. There are so many places, including my hometown of Zagreb, that used to have holy masses and ceremonies with elements of reenactment and strong symbolism, and processions in the days prior to Easter. Such customs still exist but are usually not as elaborated as they used to be.

Though, sometimes, such traditions have outlived decades and even centuries. Night procession “Za križen” on the Island of Hvar is a part of UNESCO’s intangible heritage list and is not the only magical procession on the Croatian coast and islands.

You don’t have to be a Christian to participate in the Easter customs here in Croatia – we are all eager to take part to a certain extent. Most of us will do somewhat of a spring cleaning before Easter. The least anyone will do, is decorate their easter eggs and enjoy a delicious late breakfast – or an early lunch – depends how each family calls it. It also depends on the region what exactly will you find on the Easter table. Though generally, it’s going to be ham, often baked ham in bread dough, Easter eggs, spring onion, and radish. Oh, and let’s not forget pinca – sweet, soft, and fragrant Croatian Easter bread. Mmmmm.

Does that resemble your Easter table in your country?

Croatian Easter eggs are called pisanice. Although we sometimes use that word for any colored eggs on Easter, the real pisanice, traditionally ornamented Easter eggs,  are the ones decorated with melted wax. Ornaments that are alike – flowers, vine, animals, religious motives –  show up in many Slavic nations. More precisely, common elements and resemblance can be found in Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, and Croatia for example.   Each nation has developed its own variety throughout history, with its incredible ornaments, but you would recognize the similarities at first glance.

Croatian Easter eggs are known for 4 different natural colors. What you do is choose a very white egg and paint the ornaments that should remain white with melted wax. Then paint the egg yellow. Add the yellow ornaments by “protecting” the surface with melted wax. The next color is red and the final layer is black. In the end, remove the left-over wax. I really don’t know if I would ever be able to find the amount of dedication and patience, not to mention talent or time, necessary to complete a single egg. They are incredible! No wonder, in these busy times, that there are only a few people left who still practice this custom in its full beauty.

Even if we’re not as succesfull in painting the amazing pisanice with the help of wax, we can follow an easy traditional egg dying in onion leaves. Collect some flowers and leaves, attach them carefully to an egg by putting it into a piece of nylon stocking.

Fun fact: do you know that they discovered a Croatian Easter egg from the 15th century? As you can imagine, it was broken in pieces. More precisely, around 150 pieces! After carefull restoration, the egg is now on display in the museum of Bjelovar.

The egg hunt is not a very traditional custom in Croatia, although these days, more and more towns organise a fun egg hunt for local kids. Croatian traditional version of egg hunt exists in certain parts of the land and it’s called crvene čizmice (little red boots or red shoes). You hide Easter eggs, pisanice, in the garden and send the kids out on Easter morning. They don’t search for Easter eggs, though. They search for “little red boots.” Along their way, they discover easter eggs, but the boots are nowhere to be found. I forgot to mention that they are supposed to go barefoot, so by the end of this quest, they sure got their red boots from the cold morning dew.

This custom is not so widespread. In fact, it could be illegal these days to send your kids out with no shoes:) A very traditional custom related to Easter eggs is tucanje. It used to be a favourite kids challenge. The kids take their pretty eggs and knock two eggs against each other, each of them holding their own. Only one gets broken, and the child whose egg gets broken, loses it and hands it over to the winner. Some kids were so good at this, they used to collect a full basket of eggs.

Let’s not forget that some customs are almost magical. Indeed, they are – they were created precisely to be magical in the times older than Easter itself. After all, it’s far from a secret that eggs and bunnies are in fact fertility symbols connected with ancient spring festivities. So are the bonfires. One of the old Croatian words for Uskrs, still used in certain parts of the country, is Vuzem. Similar to that, Vuzmenka is the Easter bonfire. Back in the day, you could see dozens of bonfires on the horizon when you drove through Croatia, especially the northwestern part.

The last custom that I shared in this episode is a bit explicit. If you want to know all about it, you will have to listen to the episode to keep this website nice and clean.

I hope you enjoyed this selection of Croatian Easter customs. Sretan Uskrs – Happy Easter!