The Croatian Calendar, Month to Month Festivities and Traditions, Part 4 of 4 (Autumn)

October, November, December

Part 4 of 4 - the Croatian Calendar during the Autumn Months

Our series is about to come to a close. The good news, it will be coming around again - Part 1 of 4 will be like it's always been - newcomers arriving, and old-timers stepping aside. But the beat goes on here - in the same way, with a slightly different bent.

If you haven't come to Croatia during the hectic Summer months, Autumn is an excellent time for travel. The airlines are less expensive, the cities are less packed, the weather is still warm and mild. It's an ideal time for touring around, checking out points of culture and national interest. There are discounts on short term packages, and the guides are rested and refreshed. In early Autumn, the National Parks are still lush and warm enough for a day of hiking around, bicycling, or just hanging out.

Plitvica in Autumn

Croatia's first and most impressive National Park, Plitvica, shown here with autumn leaves.  It is still delightful for walking and exploring.
Croatia's first and most impressive National Park, Plitvica, shown here with autumn leaves. It is still delightful for walking and exploring.

Autumn leading to Winter

October - listopad - male. The month's name literally means falling leaves. List (pronounced LEAST) = leaf, pad (Paaad) = fall. In this case it could be singular or plural.

November - studenog - male. This month means very cold; the word studen means chilled to the point of freezing. In most parts of the country, there is snow on the ground by the end of the month. The ladies in the village like to say, "Sveta Kata, snijeg na vrata" which translates to mean, by Saint Katherine's day on 24 November, there should be snow to the front door! But in Dalmatia, that rarely, if ever, happens.

December - prosinac - male. To prosi means to beg. It doesn't infer that Croatians begin begging in earnest in December. Rather, it means people lean on their friends a bit, "do you have a sweater I can borrow? How about some wood for my fire?" December is usually too cold to work traditional agricultural jobs so it's not illogical that this month refers to "give me something", or perhaps more appropriately, the desire to barter or at least share until the weather improves.

Grapes - a Dalmatian staple

Men, women and children of all ages lend a helping hand.  When the grapes are ready, they need to be picked.
Men, women and children of all ages lend a helping hand. When the grapes are ready, they need to be picked.
The black grape or Plavac Mali is very popular in making dark and delicious wine, neither bitter nor too sweet.
The black grape or Plavac Mali is very popular in making dark and delicious wine, neither bitter nor too sweet.
The Renault 4 hatchback is a traditional local favorite in transporting grapes from the fields to the wine cellar where they will be made into wine.
The Renault 4 hatchback is a traditional local favorite in transporting grapes from the fields to the wine cellar where they will be made into wine.

In wine is truth! U vino veritas!

During the month of October, grapes are most usually harvested, depending on their "degredation", or amount of sugar. A grape with 20% or more is sweet enough to make wine. Red or purple grapes (referred to as "black grapes") are often harvested after green ("white") grapes.

Groups of people; family members, paid, or hired helpers choose a day to pick the grapes. Large plastic bags are filled bucked by bucket, then transferred into canvas bags which are emptied and weighed. There is a local wine cooperative that buys grapes from the farmers. Other keep their bounty and make their own homemade (or domaća) wine (vino).

After the hard work is finished, there may be a barbecued fish (or meat) meal served with fresh green salad, french bread and a wine-and-water drink called bewanda. It quenches your thirst without getting you drunk, with the wine to water ratio at 1:1 or a little less.

Making wine and vinegar is a seasonal activity that has its processes. The wine won't be ready to drink until January at the earliest. Some may prepare Prošek (Pro-Sheck), a dessert wine higher in sugar (about 23% or more) than ordinary red wine. The wine and prošek will hopefully be ready for a New Year's toast or two.

SABATINA - the Sabbath

In November when all the grapes have been harvested, what better idea than to throw a party? A dance is held, music, games of chance and fun for all.

Day of the Dead

Day of the dead or All Souls Day is November 2nd here.  The day before is a national holiday so that people have time to prepare the grave sites.
Day of the dead or All Souls Day is November 2nd here. The day before is a national holiday so that people have time to prepare the grave sites.

All Saints' Day

Mrtvi Dan or Day of the Dead

Believer or no, the vast majority of Croatian people follow the traditions of their forefathers and mothers and place flowers on the grave on November 1. Not a morbid affair at all, the day is a holiday, so people have time to straighten out their family grave sites. Like other traditions, it's an opportunity to combine with visiting relatives that one hasn't seen in awhile. The procedure is quite simple. A simple, attractive bouquet is placed on deceased aunts, uncles, and friends' graves. The amount of money spent is not important - the main thing is that it looks nice. A small lantern with a candle is usually purchased.

All over Croatia this observance continues. On November 2, the graves look like a bride all dressed up and ready for her big day. This is done out of respect for the people who lived before, who did all they could to provide for the current generation, usually under very difficult circumstances (poverty, war, food shortages, crop failures). It goes without saying that those who follow the tradition hope that their children and descendents will do the same for them someday.

December Holidays

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Minimal Materialism

The Christmas season kicks in late and ends early. There are three main days -

Christmas Eve, or Badnjak (bad and yack) which resembles Yuletide Log. On that evening before Christmas, all the member of the village would find the largest, sturdiest log and mentally prepare for Christmas by singing religious songs, drinking festive drinks and socializing.

Christmas is December 25, and there are many similarities. A Christmas Tree is decorated a day or so before, with lights, ornaments and a Christmas Star at the top. A few presents are placed under the tree, but not much earlier than Christmas Eve. The house may have a wreath on the front door and lights, but the whole town is much more subdued. A nativity scene is usually seen in each home, sometimes in store fronts or as a motif on the side of a building.

Three Kings is in January 6th. It is a national holiday, and symbolizes the end of the Christmas season. Right after Three Kings, the local priest en concert with a group of altar boys go from house to house in his parish to bless the homes of parishoners! They bring incense and pray for the family members.

Saints in December

Saint Lucy (Sveta Lucija), from Syracuse, Italy. She was a Christian martyr killed around the time of the Diocletian in the 4th century. One of the patron saints of children, they receive candies on the 13th of December.

On St. Lucy, ladies place lentils or other seedlings (barley, other grains) in a cotton bed and water them every day or so, encouraging the grass to grow. It's amazing, in just a few days a small lawn has begun flourishing. In early sprint, these seedlings are moved outside and planted in the ground.

Saint Nicholas, or Sveti Nikola is even more popular. Holding a staff in his right hand, he is both strict and protective. His feast day is the 6th of December. Children traditionally receive shiny red apples if they have been good, or onions (or a switch for beating) if they have been naughty. The saint lived in Asia Minor about 1000 years ago and is the forerunner of Santa Claus. Being the patron saint of fishermen and travelers, he plays an important part in Croatian culture, protecting the men who live off the (sometimes raging) sea.

Medenjaci

These honey spice cookies can be given as gifts or used for decorations on the tree, wrapped in cellophane and eaten on Christmas morning.
These honey spice cookies can be given as gifts or used for decorations on the tree, wrapped in cellophane and eaten on Christmas morning.

Burning a "Sacrificial" Boat - an old tradition

Paganism + Christianity

The boat was burned to signify a sacrifice to appease the sea god so that the lives of fishermen would be saved. This tradition is probably over 2000 years old. The video is a bit long, so fast forward to 9.20 minutes to get a great view of the impressive Cathedral of Saint Nikola in Komiza, which was actually visited by Pope Alexander hundreds of years ago. The boat is burned in front of the church, followed by mass, then a great lunch, in typical Dalmatian / Mediterranean fashion!

Oh, Christmas Tree...

A giant Christmas tree is placed in the town square for all to see and enjoy!
A giant Christmas tree is placed in the town square for all to see and enjoy!
Of course, there will be a few Children's Christmas concerts!
Of course, there will be a few Children's Christmas concerts!

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