Folk Traditions in Croatia: What to Do to Have a Good Year

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How to attract good fortune in the coming year? Some useful advice from Croatian folklore on December 30, 2017

We can all get a bit superstitious at times, and as long as we don’t let it affect our lives too much, no harm done, right? Holidays and special events in particular entice our fondness for quoting old sayings, one of them noting that your entire year will be marked by the way you ring it in. The first day of the new year is always seen as a new beginning, which is why people have developed certain rituals over time to mark the start of the upcoming part of life.

Croatian folklore is packed with various rituals and customs related to New Year’s Eve and January 1, and while they vary from region to region, they all share a couple of common goals: to turn away malevolent spirits and attract love, good fortune and health. Let’s take a look at some examples:

Bunjevci Croats have always believed that people’s lives will unfold in the same way they spent the first day of the year, so they made sure to keep the house tidy and the atmosphere peaceful. Men didn’t play cards or other games, but enjoyed a quiet day with their families instead. Well, mostly quiet – it was advised to crack a whip a couple of times so the noise would scare away the spirits of the ancestors, which were believed to visit the house between Christmas Eve and the new year.

On the morning of January 1, every household aimed to conjure up good fortune that would stay with them for the following 12 months. Family members would fill a basin with fresh water and add an apple and a coin, then washed their face – it was believed the extras would keep them healthy and prosperous through the entire year.

After the morning rituals are done, you might decide to visit your neighbours to wish them all the best in the coming year. Sounds simple, but calls for special attention to be paid, as people used to believe the first person to walk through the door in the new year had to be a man. A woman entering the house first was seen as a sign of misfortune, which is why groups of local boys would gather and go from door to door, bringing good wishes and good fortune on the morning of January 1.

In other parts of the country, your first encounter of the day was also an important one, as it was believed your health in the entire coming year would match the health of the first person you ran into that morning.

Over to food: the menu on New Year’s Eve had to evoke a sense of prosperity, so people always made sure to prepare a proper feast. With some caveats: in some parts, it was advised not to serve chicken for lunch, as poultry “plucks backwards” out in the yard. Rabbits and fish were kept off the menu as well, so your fortune wouldn’t run away as a frightened rabbit or swim away like a fish. And of course, nothing pickled, to prevent the new year from turning sour.

What was recommended, then? Pork: just like pigs move forward when they’re digging through dirt, the family would progress and prosper in the new year. For the side dish, lentils – every lentil bean symbolising a coin. And finally, some dessert, so the new year could ‘grow’ just like yeast dough does.

When it came to housework, the rule of thumb was… not to do any. It was forbidden to take out the trash between Christmas and New Year’s Eve so good fortune wouldn’t leave the household as well. Sweeping? Also forbidden, as it wasn’t wise to stir up the spirits of the ancestors. Beauty rituals? No hair washing, as it might lead to a headache.

To be honest, I’m not entirely down with that ‘women bring bad luck’ business, but I’m happy to take any excuse to skip chores for a day or two. It’s not me, the customs forbid it. Happy New Year!


Source: Dubrovački vjesnik


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