In Croatia, Christmas is observed with much fervor. Since the ninth century, Christianity has been the dominant religion in the country. Like most Western nations, Christmas is celebrated here on 25th December but the preparations for the festival begin since the beginning of the Advent. Women of the house traditionally start baking cookies and cakes from this time.
But the festivities begin here in real earnestness on St. Lucy's Day (December 13) when a very popular Christmas tradition is observed in the country. The mother or female head of every individual family plants wheat seeds in a round dish or plate of shallow water on this day. Normally these germinate by Christmas Eve (December 24th) growing about 8 inches tall, and that is when these are tied together with "trobojnica" (ribbons) of red, blue and white colour, colours of the Croatian flag. These are spread around the floors and under the tablecloth for the Christmas dinner. Sometimes a candle is lit and placed within the wheat along with other symbolic items. It is said that the light that is seen through the wheat is a symbol of the soul within every person. According to popular custom, a prosperous new year is predicted if the wheat grows strong and green by Christmas Eve.
It is also on Christmas Eve that the Christmas tree is set up and decorations made in every home though many families begin the process days in advance.
25th December is mainly seen as a day of holy observances in Croatia and hence, though gift-giving exists during Christmas it is not a too popular tradition in the country. But there are no dearth of gifts for Croatian children, who recieve their presents around the time of Christmas even though the occassions and reasons happen to be different. In the northern and central regions of Croatia, it is St. Nicholas who fills the boots of young children with gifts on December 6th (St. Nicholas Day). In southern and north eastern Croatia, it is St. Lucy who is being seen as the traditional bringer of presents. On December 24th, the Christmas Eve, Santa Claus and the baby Jesus are believed to be the visitors to many homes, leaving gifts for good kids.
Feasts are an important and highly anticipated aspect of the Croatian Christmas celebrations. Stuffed cabbage, sarma, Dalmatian pot roast, pasticada, walnut roll, badnji kruh (fresh bread), purica, smlincima and suckling pig form some of the main items of the Christmas menu in many Croatian homes. Christmas Eve dishes generally comprise of cuisines like "Bianco and biudetto" (cod fish), smelts and salted sardines while the Christmas dinner consists of such delicacies as stuffed cabbage, turkey, zagorje noodles and fig cake.
On Christmas Day, Croats wish each other 'Sretan Bozic' which is the Croatian way of saying "Merry Christmas".
The Christmas celebrations officially come to a close here on January 6 (Epiphany), when local priests visit the homes of the parishioners to give them their blessings. Christmas trees and decorations are taken down on the same day in almost every home.