Holidays in America are busy. The family, the food, the gifts, the running around, and more. However, the holidays with an immigrant family are a whole different kind of crazy. In my family, not only do we try to keep up with American culture, but we also try to keep up with our Croatian traditions.
We try to keep the Croatian culture alive in our family.
While many families kick off their Christmas celebration the day after Thanksgiving, ours really starts with the celebration of St. Nick. St. Nick is celebrated December 6th. We leave out stockings or, more traditionally, boots, and St. Nick visits the house to leave some candy, nuts, and fruit. He is the beginning of our season and this is usually when we like to put up our tree.
I know a lot of families cook turkey or ham for Christmas. In our house, it’s a little different. The food preparation starts much earlier because Croatians love to roast whole animals on a spit. Whether it be chickens, a pig, or a lamb, most Croatians can be found in their garage, roasting said animal a few days before Christmas. We’ve had the fire department called to our house because someone thought the garage was on fire. Our kids have grown up expecting a carcass of meat in the garage; it means Christmas is near!
Additionally, we have cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. Many of the Croatian cookies require some sort of rum or other alcohol, intricate details, and lots of time. Our cookies are detailed, have lots of nuts and sugar, and take lots of time to make. If you’re a diabetic or don’t drink alcohol, Croatian cookies may not be for you. Christmas cookie baking starts early in the season and continues throughout the month of December. Our cookies aren’t made with cookie cutters…instead we grind up walnuts, throw in an undetermined amount of alcohol, and then let them sit for a week or two. These cookies are especially fun when they are rolled up and decorated to look like little peaches and children steal them when you’re not looking. Many people experience what it’s like to be drunk for the first time with friends, Croatians experience it during Christmas with their family.
Presents are important in any family during Christmas. However, Santa doesn’t take the reigns in the house. Rather, it’s the birth of Jesus. Because of this, church is always number one. When we were younger, we would go to midnight mass and when we came home, we ate our traditional meal of roast pig, salad, and cookies. Only after everyone had filled up would we be allowed to open presents.
For many families the Christmas season ends the day after Christmas. However, in our culture, we celebrate until Three Kings Day on January 6th. It’s the day that the Three Wise Men visited Jesus. We celebrate by going to church, having yet another feast, and slowly winding down. Only then is it appropriate to take down our Christmas tree, which is usually half-dead and on it’s last leg.
Every family celebrates differently, but we love raising our kids with our special Croatian traditions. While it may take some explaining about roasting a pig or why we can’t share a lot of cookies, we do know one thing that we all have in common: this is a season where we show our friends and family just how much we love them. After all, that’s the greatest part of Christmas, isn’t it?