Finding Christmas in Croatia
Christmas was always a big deal in our family. Our parents went out of the way to make everything—I mean everything—a special memory. We had our favorite foods, our favorite music, a healthy share of typical festivities, and a handful of silly little traditions kept just between the four of us.
One of our holiday “rules” was that no Christmas decorations could come out until December 1st. That week between Thanksgiving and December felt like the longest week of the year—oh, the suspense! But finally the day would come and we’d pull the dusty decoration boxes down out of the attic, excited it was finally time to put our Santa hats back on and start opening windows on the Advent calendar. Some time around the 15th or 20th, we would pick an evening and spend hours scouring Christmas tree lots for just the perfect tree to bring home. Once it was cleaned up and decorated, we could spend just as many hours sitting in front of the tree, in a room that was lit only by twinkly colored tree lights, taking in the beauty and profound magic of the moment.
Over the years we’ve been pulled apart geographically, but I know there’s still some of that Christmas magic tying us all together, no matter where we are.
My mom (Deni) and I had been talking for several years about one day making it to Europe’s famed Christmas markets. I think we always assumed we would go to Germany or Austria—but then we started hearing rumors about this wonderful Christmas celebration in Zagreb. So when I visited her in Croatia last Christmas, we made a point of spending a few days in Zagreb.
We had no idea what we were in for!!
It would take way more than a simple blog post to convey the beauty, the wonder, the warmth and utter magic that were waiting to be enjoyed. First, there were decorations (those lovely decorations!) covering blocks and blocks and blocks of the city, from Jelačić Trg up to Gornji Grad, down Ilica and out to the cathedral. We wandered and giggled and lit up like little kids every time we rounded another corner and found a new pocket of themed decorations, all wrapped up and dripping with colored lights.
But even better than the material things was the fact that there were people everywhere out enjoying them—warming up with hot drinks in the upper town, filling up on sarma or grah down in the park, browsing the craft stalls, bundled up listening to music at the outdoor stages, crowded around the live nativity scene to hear the story of Jesus’ birth, sharing Christmas Eve bakalar with literally anyone in the city willing to make their way to the main square for this traditional meal.… The city felt full of the kind of Christmas spirit you only hear about in movies, and we soaked it in till we dropped!
After the extravaganza that was Advent u Zagrebu, we retreated to the coast for Christmas Eve dinner with friends and midnight mass. It was so much quieter and more subdued (doesn’t the sea always have a calming effect?) but the spirit was still there—and it went on for many days. Warmth that even the icy air couldn’t expel. Brightness to defy the darkest days of the year. And a kind of joyful togetherness I had not experienced since I was a little kid, before life got complicated and the four winds began to gently sweep us all apart.
I have no doubt that our first Christmas in Croatia was somewhere in our minds when we were laying the foundations for DOMA Trading. We met so many dear people selling beautiful things, and our hearts were stirred to share these treasures—with people who might not be making the trip back to Croatia, with people who just need a little reminder or touch from home, and with those who are excitedly dreaming up their next visit. It’s not even about the things, it’s about the people behind them—and the people many of us have left behind. Sometimes we just need a little something to hold onto, something frozen in time, that passes from one hand and one home to the next. A little thread, a little memory to help us all feel closer.
Sretan Božić, from our family to yours.