The feast of St. Martin, or Martinje, takes place on November 11th, marking the end of the winegrowing year. Martinje is particularly characteristic of Northwestern Croatia, where this holiday is marked by the “baptism” of must. Over time, this custom evolved from a private environment to a public one, becoming a tourist attraction. The “baptism” of must has turned into a parody ceremony, characterized by toasts and humorous imitations of church rituals, led by the “bishop” and his group, i.e. ordinary people who put on a kind of performance.
Martinje is always accompanied by live music, delicious food, and, of course, excellent wine. It is a tradition to prepare roast goose with mlinci (a true Croatian specialty, thin dough boiled and then briefly rolled in fat) on this holiday, but no one knows why this particular dish is tied to this custom. The most popular theory is that St. Martin, fleeing from the people who wanted to make him a bishop, hid among a gaggle of geese. The animals then gave him away by letting out a loud honk. The reason is not important to visitors of this traditional event, only that the food is delicious.
Two months later, on January 22, the day of St. Vincent, that is Vincekovo, marks the beginning of winegrowing operations in the new year. Canes are symbolically pruned and “baptized” with old wine on Vincekovo, and sausages are hung on them to ensure good crops. The cut cane branches are often taken home to bloom, as well as to help the winegrower see what the harvest will be based on the blooming branch. Of course, neither Vincekovo nor Martinje can pass withoutˆˆ
If you were to ask foreigners who moved to Croatia what was the biggest cultural shock they experienced when they moved, most of them would surely say the hour-long coffee dates in cafes. Going for a coffee is more than a stop during the day for most Croatians, it is a way of life. It is not at all surprising that the average Croatian spends as much as 182 hours a year drinking coffee.
The point of going out for coffee is not the coffee itself, but talking, socializing, and spending time with friends, colleagues, or family that comes with it. Once we sit down, we don’t get up for at least an hour and a half, and sometimes that can turn into two or three hours. That’s why finding a table in cafes can sometimes be an impossible mission, especially when those first rays of sunshine appear in the year and everyone flocks to the terraces for their first spring coffee. And then second, and then the third… When it gets cold again, we don’t pause for coffee – we just move indoors and grumble that we can’t drink coffee outdoors anymore.
The culture of drinking coffee is so prevalent among Croatians that we will rarely say that we are going “to a café”. We always “go for coffee” although this “coffee” can be beer, tea, juice, or something else. You don’t have to be a coffee drinker to go “for coffee”, but it is necessary to be able to endure at least an hour or two in a café sipping your drink of choice. That is exactly what is hidden behind the common saying “Ajmo na kavu!” – “Let’s go for coffee!”. We could say that this is one of the conditions that you need to meet before you can call yourself a Croatian.
One of the most famous chestnut festivals is without a doubt the one in Kostajnica, Croatia, which makes sense considering that’s where the town got its name (“kesten” or “*kosten” means chestnut in Croatian). Kostajnica and the surrounding area have been rich in chestnut forests since ancient times, which come to life at the beginning of October when visitors come to collect their delicious fruits.
In addition to picking and roasting chestnuts, the festival, called “Kestenijada”, is always accompanied by an entertainment program. At the three-day event, you can enjoy concerts, exhibitions, a fair with handicraft and local products, performances, and much more.
Each year special means of public transportation are set in place to help you get to the festival easier. The excursion train “Kesten-cug” takes you to the event from Zagreb. If you are a fan of chestnuts, be sure to head to Hrvatska Kostajnica at the beginning of October!
Sinjska Alka is a Croatian equestrian competition created in the early 18th century. It is held every year on the first Sunday in August to commemorate the victory of the knights of Sinj over the Ottomans in 1715.
It takes place according to a strictly codified ordinance. Only boys born in Cetinska Krajina (the Cetina region) are allowed to participate in individual competitions from 11 to a maximum of 17 alkars (horsemen in full regalia). An alkar at full gallop, without rising from the saddle, holds a lance and aims for the alka – a hoop with 4 splits placed at a height of 3.32 meters. A score in each of the divisions yields one, two, or three points, respectively. A hit to the very center is worth three points. Every hit u sridu (the center or middle) is accompanied by brass music and the shooting of an antique cannon – mačkula. The goal of the game is to collect as many points as possible in three attempts. The lucky winner is the alkar who collects the most points. If, after three attempts, two or more competitors have the same number of points, they continue to compete in the so-called pripetavanje until one of them becomes a winner.
On the very day Alka is held, there is a specific sequence of events traditionally observed. The procession consists of a vojvoda (duke), alkar helpers, a troop of boys, and escort, all dressed in clothes and ceremonial robes identical to those of the 18th century. Mačkule cannons sound off in the morning, and then the music plays a wake-up call on the main streets of Sinj. After the awakening, the alkari and the people gather in the City, and representatives of church, military, and political authorities are invited to Alka before noon. Two hours before the beginning of Alka itself, trumpeters and drummers invite the contestants to gather in festive robes with historical equipment and weapons. A final check of the alkars is carried out, after which they head to the duke, accompanied by trumpets and drums, in the alkar courts and prepare for the competition.
If you’ve always wanted to attend a knight’s tournament, this is the perfect opportunity. You may not be able to become a glorious victor who will be celebrated by the entire city, but you can be a part of the audience. And that in and of itself is a great honor 😊
If you are Croatian, you most likely have or have at one point at least had one licitar as a decoration at home. The tradition of making this honey dough cake began back in the Middle Ages, and it became established in what became present-day Croatian during the 17th and 18th centuries. Honey dough used to be pressed into wooden molds, while today it is shaped in tin molds in which it is also baked. It is then painted with fruit colors and decorated with a sugar mixture, mirrors, and other details. Although the licitar is made entirely of edible ingredients, it mainly serves as a decoration.
Traditionally, it is bright red in color and produced in various shapes, such as hearts, horses, birds, and mushrooms.. The most popular form is certainly the heart, and once young men expressed their love and devotion to girls by giving them a licitar heart. Licitars were traditionally sold at fairs and exhibitions. Today they are one of the most popular products in souvenir shops of continental Croatia.
The cultural importance of the licitar was also recognized by UNESCO, which included their production on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. If you want to try your hand at making this Croatian symbol, instructions for making it are available at the following link: https://www.licitar.hr/en/o-licitarima-1#i-sami-mozete-izraditi-licitare
Don’t be discouraged if they don’t visually turn out to be perfect. Repetition is the mother of knowledge, and until you have perfected your technique of craftsmanship, every specimen you are dissatisfied with – you can eat. 😉