These days, Christmas and New Year in Croatia is much like many other countries that celebrate this holiday – there’s a multitude of decorations, fir trees aplenty, a slightly manic shopping period for gifts and (more or less) a good holiday spirit.
Almost all towns and cities decorate their centres and main squares with the usual kind of Christmas decorations (think plenty of lights) and put up a large Christmas tree.
As a small aside – one Croatian family has really taken Christmas decorating to heart! The Salaj family, who live in the small village of Grabovnica, east of Zagreb, decorate their property (buildings and land) each year with an amazing amount of lights, normally bettering themselves as each year passes! They started this tradition in 2002; for Christmas 2017, they used 2.5 million lights (!). Here’s a little video of the end result:
Many places often have some kind of Christmas fair, with stalls selling food and drink (mulled/hot wine), Christmas ornaments and other little trinkets. These fairs normally start in the first week of December, and go through to very early January.
The larger towns and cities will also have an ice rink. Most weekdays, time is allocated for schoolchildren to skate (or learn to skate) with open skating for all taking place later in the day. These stay open well into New Year.
Zagreb, certainly, takes the Christmas period very seriously, with plenty of festive events throughout the city. Full details can be found on the Advent in Zagreb website. Zagreb has been voted the Best Christmas Market three years running (2016, 2017 and 2018) by European Best Destinations!
One big attraction in Croatia every Christmas is the privately run Salajland. Set on the large grounds of the Salaj family just outside the town of Cazma, about 65km east of Zagreb, there’s a huge Christmas display featuring thousands of lights; it really is quite spectacular! Entry is ticketed but it only costs 40 Kunas per person. (Children under 7 go free.)
New Year’s Eve in Croatia
New Year’s Eve is also very popular in Croatia and, once again, many towns and cities organise a special celebration for their main square or street. In the larger cities, this can often be quite an extravaganza with top singers (by Croatian standards, anyway) performing. As is the case with almost everywhere around the world, there’s a countdown for midnight and a firework display. These events are free, so well worth joining and taking in the atmosphere and good vibes. These public events can be very well attended; Dalmatian newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija claimed that 70,000 people welcomed in the New Year in Split on the Riva in December 2010.
As you’re probably aware, Croatia doesn’t (yet?) have a year-round tourism industry, although – little by little – the season is extending and more and more hotels are staying open year-round. (Or some re-open for the Christmas and New Year period.) Many offer special deals for this period; check on hotel websites to see prices for stays at this time and what festivities they have planned!
Festive Croatian Phrases
Most importantly – the phrases you will need at this time of year!
Merry Christmas! – Sretan Bozic (sreah-tan boh-zich, with the z pronounced like the ‘s’ in measure)
Happy New Year! – Sretna Nova Godina! (sreat-nah no-vah goh-dee-na)