Tis’ the Season in the Novigrad Sea; How to Celebrate a Traditional Dalmatian Christmas?

How do Croatians celebrate Christmas?

You’ll have a slightly different experience depending on which part of Croatia you visit on your Christmas holiday.

Today, we take you to the area of Novigrad Sea during Christmas. And a bit back, in times of different traditions.

Ready? You don’t want to miss this exciting sleigh ride.

Christmas Trees Then and Now

A Christmas tree lit up with fairy lights and decorations is a staple in most households that celebrate this festive season.

Today, people in the Novigrad Sea decorate with fairy lights and baubles. As a finishing touch, they typically add a star to reflect the North Star.

Under the traditional Croatian Christmas tree, you’ll also find the miniature version of the Nativity scene — featuring baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men and animals in the stable.

If we rewind to a couple of generations before, we uncover that Christmas trees reflected different times.

To decorate, people in the Novigrad Sea area would have to work with what was available. In tough times, only the wealthiest families would have fancy glass baubles for ornaments.

Others would decorate their trees with candles, dried fruit, apples, nuts and pears. Some would improvise the decor with paper chains. Cotton balls were also used on the tree to mimic snow.

Back then, when people didn’t have money for an elaborate tree, they would pluck out the available ones. The Aleppo pine tree was a popular choice.

Decorating the Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve

Traditionally, Croatians would bring the tree into the house and decorate it on the night before Christmas — also known as “Badnjak” or Christmas Eve. 

Many people in Dalmatia still do.

However, you'll find that new generations often bend this rule and set up their trees at the start of December, as the Christmas advent begins, to enjoy the festive mood for longer.

Traditional Christmas Food and Drinks

What you’ll find on the Christmas table differs from one family to another. Every family has its own small traditions. The gastronomical offer is versatile in the Novigrad Sea region in Dalmatia as well.

Here are some common festive meals, snacks, desserts and drinks.

Main Course

Dalmatians love to serve versatile finger food or charcuterie-worthy meat and cheese products as starter bites before the main course.

Posedarje is an area in the Novigrad Sea region famous for its prosciutto. And Poličnik is known for its selection of locally made cheese.

For the main courses on holiday, you’ll mostly encounter versatile Mediterranean-inspired dishes starring fish and squid.

Different takes on the codfish are popular for the holiday table — the most common being cooked codfish, mostly in a kind of warm stew.

Meat-based meals such as turkey and pork are popular choices for a Christmas lunch. The only exception is Christmas Eve, when Croatians abstain from meat and serve seafood sourced from the Adriatic Sea.

Desserts for Festive Season

On the traditional Christmas menu, desserts are a must. Dalmatians love experimenting with modern sweets and desserts but also take pride in recipes that have been in the family for generations.

“Fritule” are Croatian pastries traditionally made for Christmas in Dalmatia. When the smell of these small festive doughnuts fills the air, you know it’s time to relax with your family and watch Christmas films. Dalmatians cover them with sugar or chocolate.

“Smokvenjak” is a dense and sweet fig cake that is made with pressed dried figs, versatile ground nuts and “rakija” (fruit brandy). This Mediterranean speciality is a simple and healthy treat perfect for the Christmas season.

“Novska torta” (Novigrad cake) is a rich and decadent cake made out of layers of chocolate and walnuts. This sweet dessert is another staple in the Novigrad Sea.

“Kroštule” are sweet pastry knots traditionally prepared in Novigrad for Christmas. This is a sweet and crispy dessert covered in powdered sugar.

What About Drinks?

Dalmatians love to warm up with mulled wine during this cold and jolly season. Cooked in cinnamon, cloves and vanilla, this drink tastes like Christmas. It warms the heart and soul from the inside out.

Rakija is another popular drink in the Novigrad Sea. Fig, cherry, and travarica (herbs brandy) are some of the favourites in this area. Locals drink it all year round, but many cook it to warm up around Christmas too.

Back in Time

In the past, most people in the Novigrad Sea area would have had a fireplace. On Christmas Eve, they would make fresh, warm bread from scratch and pair it with a cup of mulled wine.

After the bread was warm and ready, the tradition was to dunk it into the mulled wine. Around here, this was known as “supa” or soup.

Sugared almonds and caramelised lemon or orange peel used to be popular snacks during that time. Many people still make them today to satisfy their sweet tooth during the festive season.

Attend Midnight Mass

Holy mass at midnight is the tradition with which most Croatians start their Christmas. The local community gathers to experience that moment together. This is also known as “Ponoćka”.

Pro Local Tip: Make sure to check at the local churches if the mass is held exactly at midnight. Regardless of the name, the time the Holy Mass begins can differ from one church to another.

If you miss Ponoćka, you can still attend Christmas Mass, which is held on Christmas day every year.

Celebrate Christmas by the Sea

People who come together to catch up with their loved ones over “fritule” and mulled wine make Christmas in Novigrad so warm and special. Together, they decorate the Christmas tree and attend the Midnight Mass.

Are you in for some coastal Christmas cheer?

Pack your ugly Christmas sweater, warm socks, and some festive cheer to enjoy your relaxing holidays by the seaside. We’ll eat, hang out and have a great time.

We’d love to have you for a magical Christmas at the Novigrad Sea.