Croatian traditions and customs

What traditions and customs are there in Croatia?

Croatian customs and traditions date back several centuries.


Food in daily life

The main meal of the day is a late lunch. In the north and inland, most foods have an Austrian or Hungarian flavor. A typical lunch includes chicken or beef soup, cooked meat (often pork), potatoes, and bread.

Vegetables with vinegar and oil are served in spring and summer, and pickled vegetables in winter. Along the coast, a meal usually includes fish and pasta, risotto, or polenta. Lamb is common in the Dalmatian Highlands region.

Breakfast is simple, usually consisting of strong coffee and bread with jam. The traditional dinner typically consists of leftovers from lunch, cold cuts and cheese with bread. People usually eat in their own homes, although they also snack on the streets.

Restaurants are usually very formal and expensive. There are a variety of fast foods available, including foods typical of ethnic minorities. While people rarely eat in restaurants, almost everyone drinks coffee in cafes on a regular basis.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

For holidays or special occasions, there are large amounts of food, especially meat. Roasted pork in skin (“pecenka”) is very popular in Zagreb and Slavonia. Special cakes are also prepared. Fried cheese, octopus salad, spicy grilled meats and phyllo dishes all reflect different cultural influences.

Large amounts of alcohol are part of any celebration. In Slavonia it is usually a plum brandy; in Zagreb and on the coast, brandies made from grapes or herbs are popular. Whenever people get together, they usually drink together. Strong coffee and Turkish -style espresso are important symbols of hospitality. Men are usually offered an alcoholic drink.

Basic Economy

People no longer produce food primarily for their own consumption, although during the 1991-1995 war people relied on vegetable gardens and subsistence fishing, especially along the coast. Agriculture, however, remains an important industry. Steelmaking, chemical production, and oil refineries are also important, as are textiles, shipbuilding, and food processing.

Tourism, which was the main industry on the coast until 1991, is once again important. Croatia depends on imported goods and income from exports.


People stand close to each other and talk loudly. The strangers openly look at each other. Formality is maintained in language and behavior when people do not know each other well. Strangers nod their heads as they pass. In stores, offices, and places of business, people use formal language to greet and say goodbye.

Failing to greet someone in a context that requires a greeting and an overly familiar greeting is a serious breach of etiquette. People who are on friendly terms greet each other more informally and usually kiss each other on both cheeks.

Men and women kiss, women and women kiss, and men kiss other men who are family members or close associates. Young people are expected to offer the first salute to older people and women to men.

The formal “you” is used unless the people are age colleagues, good friends, or co-workers, or have reached a point where the dominant person invites the lower-status person to address him or her informally.


Religious beliefs

For many people, Catholicism is a symbol of nationality even though they may not be able to attend mass or participate in other religious activities or ceremonies. Most young people are baptized, and most marriages take place in a church. Other religions include Eastern or Serbian Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Protestantism.

Since the war, there has been a more visible presence of Protestant missionaries, including members of the Church of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is some interest in Eastern religions, such as Buddhism, among young adults.

Death and afterlife

Most Croats hold to a Roman Catholic view of the death and resurrection of the soul. Interestingly, All Saints’ Day (Day of the Dead) is the only Catholic holiday that was celebrated by most of the ethnic groups of the former Yugoslavia.

It is still a very important celebration in Croatia. Families wash and prepare graves, and decorate them with candles, flowers, and photographs. People often make multiple trips to cemeteries during the days leading up to and after All Saints’ Day.

Secular celebrations

Secular holidays include New Year’s Day, International Labor Day (May 1), Croatian Statehood Day (May 30), Anti-Fascist Uprising Day (June 22), and Gratitude Day National (August 5). International Women’s Day (March 8) remains a very popular day.

Arts and Humanities

The arts are generally well supported in Croatia, including literature, fine arts, graphic arts, and performing arts. Folk art, music and dance are also important and are part of the Croatian national identity.

In the former Yugoslavia, all of these activities were directly supported by the state. This is no longer entirely true, although the state continues to support the arts, and the Croatian population in general pays attention to and appreciates many forms of art.

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