What’s on Your Christmas Table? ‒ The Typical Croatian Christmas Feast

Do you ever wonder how many turkeys get eaten during Christmas festivities? Neither do we. As long as it’s roasted to perfection with a golden crispy skin and served with delicious Zagorje mlinci, we don’t care. Christmas is one day away and you’re starving because it’s fasting day so you steal another slice of makovnjača (poppy seed roll) from the tray your mother warned you not to touch, the fridge is filled with food but the only thing you’re allowed to eat is salted codfish, the balcony looks like a pantry because there’s no room left in the fridge, the poor 5-kilo turkey is seasoned and waiting for tomorrow’s roast, you mom is rolling sarmas alongside orehnjača (walnut roll), because you’ve eaten half of the makovnjača tray, basically there’s food everywhere! Yes, you’ve found yourself in a typical Croatian home on Christmas Eve. 

Feasts are crucial in a typical Croatian home, especially in holiday season. A food coma is your natural state from the beginning of December all the way through New Year’s Day and there’s no escaping it. That is, we still haven’t discovered a way to save ourselves from it. The horror!

So what do Croats eat on Christmas Day? Nowadays we traditionally prepare turkey or duck with mlinci, some people prefer roasted lamb or yummy suckling piglet with potatoes and Olivier salad, aspic is a must (we don’t like it), pašticada is the usual meal of choice in the Dalmatia region, sarma (stuffed cabbage with minced meat) is no stranger to the Christmas table but it’s usually eaten on New Year’s Day. And let’s not forget the obligatory starter ‒ soup!

Throughout Croatia ovens run on full power and the stress level usually heightens due to the fact that you can’t bake sweet rolls and roast turkey at the same time. Strategizing is the key! There are so many traditional desserts you need to make such as fritule (mini doughnuts), medenjaci (honey spice cookies), vanilla crescents, Linzer cookies, apple strudel, walnut and poppy-seed rolls and varied sinfully delicious cakes but the question is how and what goes first?! This is where your mom starts to panic and threatens that she won’t bake a cake in her life ever again! #yougottalovechristmas

However, Croatian Christmas tables weren’t always as decadent as these days. In the past, Christmas dinners were very thrifty and not many people could afford one meaty meal, let alone the whole animal farm we decimate each Christmas. Desserts usually implied a bit of raisins and nuts, with orehnjača and makovnjača being the real treat. Special ceremonial bread was a must on the Christmas table and there were precise rules on how to break the bread loaf. Interestingly enough, Christmas trees were usually decorated with apples, oranges, plums and pears, or golden walnuts and hazelnuts in wealthier homes. As far as Christmas presents go, children used to get some dried fruits and nuts, and boys used to give a decorated Christmas apple božićnica to a girl they fancied as a symbol of their affection (how romantic is that?). However, the contemporary božićnica (which nowadays means a Christmas bonus) is probably much more romantic if you ask any Croat. 

While Christmas traditions change, one thing remains the same – Christmas has always been a time for family with lots of laughing, talking and gathering around the table! And we wish you plenty of those!

How about you? What’s on your Christmas table?