January in Croatia
January or Siječanj is an exciting month in Croatia! Just when you think the partying is over celebrating New Year (Nova Godina), you get thrown back in to more festivities with the beginning of Carnival!
Croatians being Catholic celebrate the Epiphany or Three Kings on January 6th. This is a national holiday marking the event of the three kings (or wise men) visiting newborn baby Jesus. In some parts of Croatia on the eve of the Epiphany, Croatians take water to the church to be blessed by the priest and then sprinkle the water on their homes, animals, fields, gardens, vineyards, etc. into the next day. Some areas call January 6th, the Feast of the Three Kings and boys dressed as the Three Kings or Starmen (Zvjezdari) come to your house to sing church hymns and you give them gifts in return. In an area of Croatia called Slavonia, Slavonians swim in a nearby river on the Epiphany because they believe it will help ward off diseases in the coming year. Some people even take coal and ash from Christmas time from their fireplace and spread it in their fields, gardens and vineyards because they believe it will prevent bad weather and a good harvest. More traditionally common on the Epiphany, Croatians take down their Christmas tree and other decorations. Between Christmas and January 6th, a priest comes by your house to bless it with holy water and you make a monetary offering to the church.
Carnival, spoken either as Karneval or Maškare, begins in January and ends on Ash Wednesday before the 40 days of Lent and then Easter. Carnival is celebrated slightly different in each city, town and village of Croatia, but always involves masks and costumes, music, a parade of some sort and a kind of puppet or "Pust" that represents someone or something usually disliked in current society. No matter where you visit there is a Carnival party every Saturday with live music, dancing, contests and more. For many Croatians, this is their favorite time of year!
The largest and most famous Carnival in Croatia takes place in the city of Rijeka and also places as the third largest Carnival parade in the world after Rio de Janeiro and Venice. Only a 20-30 minute drive from our rental apartments in Crikvenica. Each year the entire city comes to life with festivities beginning by declaring the Master of the Carnival who acts as mayor and is handed the symbolic key to the city. Then the Master holds an election for a Carnival Queen responsible for spreading good news. There is a Children's Parade and a great International Parade that has grown to over 150,000 people in recent years followed by a Humanitarian Ball held at the Governor's Palace. On the final day, the Pust is blamed for all the bad things that happened the previous year and is taken out to sea on a boat and burned. In nearby Opatija, they decorate floats representing their culture and traditions, have dances, contests and a Balinjerada race, which looks like something between a skateboard and a sled you kneel on and test your driving skills. In Kastav, there is a procession of traditionally dressed bell ringers and others dress in sheep skins and animal masks. In Samobor, they have a large handmade doll called "Fašnik", instead of a Pust, and they set it on fire in the town square on the final day of Carnival.
So, even though the weather is cold and the mountains are covered in snow, besides skiing and eating delicious food, there is plenty more fun to be had in Croatia in January.