Traditional Customs

Traditional Customs

Birth-related Customs

Not so long ago, pregnant women were not spared from working hard on farms. A mother-in law or a village midwife used to help them while giving birth at home, by the hearth. Only after the Second World War did women start to give birth to their babies in maternity hospitals. The most importantbirth-related custom was the babine, an occasion on which a woman and her newborn baby were visited by women from the woman's family. In this way, the custom of babine symbolised a family-social ritual through which a newborn was accepted into a family. The same goes for baptism, in the context of which the institution of godparenthood was considered important. For generations, families used to be related through godparenthood, a custom which has barely survived t o the present day.

Engagement and Wedding Customs

The young used to meet on different occasions, at church, celebrations and fairs, or when they would go to draw water from wells, etc. An interesting occasion when young people would meet certainly was the so-called gonjanje (chasing), an initiation custom equally important for both girls and boys fit for marriage. The gonjanje would take place when girls grazed their sheep. On that occasion, young men would pursue all the girls pretending that they were running away.

Another important engagement custom included the sijelo and sjedenje, or silo and sidenje (sitting). On this occasion, a prospective bride was visited by young men, one of which was to be chosen as her future husband. The couple was then considered to be in a serious relationship that would eventually lead to marriage. They were said to be sitting, that is, their relationship was referred to as the sijelo.

The role of parents was, of course, considered significant in choosing daughter a husband and son a wife, but the rest of the family elders used to have a voice in this as well. What also mattered was a financial situation so the most popular were girls with no brothers, called the dotarice (girls with large dowries). It was even better if a girl was the only child. For both girls and boys equally, it was considered important that the eldest sister and the eldest brother marry first.

The decision to get married was of course followed by the established traditional patterns. What a prospective bridegroom had to do first was to ask a girl's father for her hand in marriage. He was accompanied on that occasion by a male member of the family, his father or uncle. They used to be said to go for the zaruke (ring, ringing of his fiancée) since it was a formal engagement. As was the custom in some places, the bridegroom-to-be would bring shoes together with the engagement ring, as a condition and a symbol of accepting the girl into her new family. This custom has been preserved to the present day, as can be seen on the wedding itself when the bride's shoe is stolen in order for the best man to pay for it. After the engagement, the bridegroom's father would go to the family house of his future daughter-in-law. This is called the ugovor (agreement) or jabuka (apple), as he would bring an apple with coins in it, asking in person the girl's hand for his son in marriage.

The prospective bride and bridegroom would eventually visit a parish priest in order to be registered for the napovidi (notices). This means that the priest was obliged to announce to the fellow villagers their wedding on the following church service. The custom has persisted under the same name to the present day.

As the wedding day was approaching, the girl would normally take care of her dota (dowry), the daily necessities that she would bring with herself to her marital home – bedlinen, cutlery and crockery, chairs etc. The bride's dota depended on her parents' financial situation. The custom that a bride brings a dowry at marriage has been preserved to the present day.

The number of wedding guests depended on the financial situation of the families of bride and groom, but the smallest number might have been as few as five.

The most important wedding guest who led the procession was called the standard bearer and carried a banner, a three-colored flag and a rooster, with sukanac (old knitted socks). The standard bearer was followed by the 'bridesman,' who is the leader of the wedding guests who are obliged to listen. The bridesman was usually an older member of the groom's family, a father or uncle from the father's or the mother's side. Finally, the groom follows, as well as two of the best men and two groomsmen, and with groomsmen there is also one of the girls, jenge. It is a custom that the groomsmen have a white handkerchief attached to their back.

In that order, wedding guests go towards the bride's house, as is said even today, "to get the bride." Negotiations took place in front of her house. Namely, wedding guests from the bride's side take girls in front of the house, and, at that time, groomsman, bridesman or best man, negotiate with the bride's brother or her cousin, if she doesn't have a brother, about the purchasing of the bride. Usually, two or three girls are taken out, and after them, the bride comes out, for which the groomsman or the best man gives a certain amount of money.

This custom of "symbolic purchasing" has survived up to today. After the wedding ceremony, which is held in the church, it is a custom to go back to the bride's family house „for a feast" and to then proceed towards the groom's house, which is the new bride's house. The bride was obliged to perform several symbolic acts by which she shows her new commitment to her new home and family. One of the customs worthy of mention is throwing an apple above the roof of the house and kissing the doorstep before she crosses over it to enter her new home.

Then it was time to eat, drink and celebrate. And custom required that a traditional wedding meal be prepared: wedding day hen risotto.

At the wedding feast the stari svat would propose a toast to the bride and the groom, whereas nowadays it is not uncommon for the bridegroom's mother to have that privilege. After the feast, the bride would go to the bedroom accompanied by one of the djeveri and the jenga, or the best man alone. The newlywed bride was obliged to get up first the following morning, prepare everything for lighting a fire in a hearth, light the fire and fetch water from a well. Everything supposed to be prepared before the mother-of-law got up, and the bride had also other duties to do – threshing corn, carrying a burden, collecting firewood and leaves, washing clothes, etc. She was then expected to prepare the bukara (wooden or earthen jug) with water for the wedding guests to wash their face before they left, as well as a cloth to wipe themselves with. The guests would give the bride some money for this, but she would also give them presents that she had brought from her parental home. The money that the bride would get from the guests was considered her personal property. She also used to give presents to her mother-in-law and father-in-law, and it was customary that these were pieces of clothing that she had knitted with the help of her friends and female cousins.

Funeral Customs

The final among life cycle customs include those connected with the death of a family member. Relatives would lament over their death and this is called the naricanje (lamenting). They would also mourn for them, whereas the whole ritual was accompanied by the rhythmic and melodic texts containing the description of physical and spiritual virtues of the deceased. While funeral preparations were underway, a wake was held in order to watch over the body, As was the custom, which has survived to the present day, the family of the deceased would hold a feast after the funeral for all those who came to pay their last respects to him/her. The feast is referred to as the sedmina (one seventh, the seventh part) and just as was the case with the wedding feast, the bereaved family had to pay for it so it depended on their financial situation. The funeral feast was associated with the belief that the needs of the dead person in the other world were the same as in this world.

Closer members of the family wore black clothes, so-called "mourning black clothes," as a symbol of grieving for the members of the family who have passed away, and the widows wore black clothes throughout their life, a custom which is preserved in some places even today.

Christmas Customs

On All Saints' Day, a feast day celebrated on 1 November, people would visit each other in order to open barrels and taste the wine. Since it was an opportunity for enjoyment and feasting, people used to consider All Saints' Day the first Christmas, a prelude to the approaching Christmas festivities.

The materice (a term of endearment for mother) and the očići (a term of endearment for father), the customs typical of Dinaric Croatia, were also celebrated before Christmas. The materice custom used to be marked in a way that married women were supposed to treat those men who would wish them all the best, and it was vice versa for the očići.

Christmas Eve was marked by special celebration. As it is a day of fasting, people would prepare food with no fat, just like nowadays they prepare cod, whereas especially popular was the pogača.

Christmas Eve used to be marked by certain rituals. First, a householder would say the rosary with the rest of the family. After dinner, he had to take three logs into a house in order to burn them on a fire in a hearth. The three logs, and the Christmas candle trojica (three) alike, symbolise the Most Holy Trinity. Before they were placed in the hearth, the logs were supposed to be blessed with holy water. When the logs had been taken into the house, the family would say a prayer for the dead, after which they would take some straw into their home and spread it on the floor. Straw is here clearly symbolic of the Nativity, Jesus's birth in a manger. In a way, it was also a symbol of fertility, as people used to strew it across the fields and gardens. In addition, they would put it in henhouses, since they believed that would make hens lay more eggs. As was the custom, almost all the village, except for their frail older villagers, - since these were small communities after all – used to go to Midnight Mass, after which they would then wish each other a merry Christmas. On Christmas dinner the householder indeed used to play the leading role. After dinner, by making the sign of the cross he would put out the Christmas candle with a small piece of bread previously dipped into wine. The custom of the ritual putting out of the Christmas candle has been preserved to the present day.

Lent and Easter Customs

When the Carnival period is over, Lent begins featuring Palm Sunday and Holy Week as the most significant holidays. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter. On the Saturday before Palm Sunday, it was a custom to pick spring flowers, most often violets, and when the Palm Sunday morning dawned, people would wash their face with water with the picked flowers. After that, it was customary to go to church, bringing a sprig of fir, olive or laurel to be blessed by a priest. On Maundy Thursday the ringing of church bells would stop, falling silent until Holy Saturday. Maundy Thursday was popularly known as cabbagey or green Thursday since on that day it was customary to eat wild cabbage and the unleavened pogača. On Good Friday in the morning, people were not allowed to do any kind of work For this reason, on this day especially, especially ploughing, except if they ploughed for their neighbours or fellow villagers.

For this reason, on this day especially,people would drink red wine, according to the popular belief that wine was transformed into blood. Good Friday was a day of fasting and it is even today considered by elders as an obligatory fast, so on that day people would eat food with no fat and paint Easter eggs with herbal plants. Finally, on Holy Saturday people would bring to church the pogača and boiled eggs, one for each member of a family, in order to be blessed, just like nowadays they bring eggs and the posvećenica or sirnica, sweet round Easter bread. The blessed food was the Easter breakfast, the first thing to eat on Easter Sunday. What especially made the youngest happy as well as those older, was Easter egg cracking, where the winner was the one who managed to crack more eggs than anyone else.

Midsummer Day Customs (24 June, the feast of Saint John the Baptist)

The most interesting custom in the summertime is the one related to the feast of Saint John the Baptist celebrated on 24 June, which means that it falls on the time of the summer solstice. It used to be marked by lighting a fire, the svitnjak, which explains the popular name of the feast, sv. Ivan Svitnjak. People would light the svitnjak in yards, in village guvna (sg. guvno, pl. guvna – a wide area on a family farm similar to a yard and usually shared by two families), at crossroads. All the village would gather around it, and the younger ones would then, to their as well as to the joy of those older, try to jump over the fire. The custom of lighting the svitnjak represented an occasion where a village community would socialise, except for families in mourning. In the Cetinska Krajina Region, the feast of St John the Baptist used to be marked by holding a parish fête, the dernek, in the village of Grab. The custom of lighting a symbolic fire during the summer solstice was known to all the Slavic peoples.

Parish Fêtes (sg. dernek, pl. derneci)

Parish fêtes used to be occasions where the young fit for marriage used to meet. Most often they were held in order to celebrate feast days of patron saints of different places, such as Our Lady of the Angels in Imotski, Our Lady of the Rosary in Vrlika, St Luke in Otok near Sinj, St Philip and Jacob in Potravlje near Sinj, St Michael in Trilj near Sinj, etc. It was a general characteristic of the Trilj as was the custom, a young man would give a present called the grotulja to a girl he liked. The grotulja is actually a row of holed walnuts arranged on a string, whose length varies, so there are the grotulje (pl.) from those the length of a necklace to those reaching the floor. As a result, a girl's success with boys used to be determined by the number and the length of grotulja she would get on the dernek. Not only that the dernek used to be an occasion for young men to meet girls, but it also represented an opportunity for all the members of a village community to gather and socialise, those living in a community as well as those who had left their home in search of a better life. Pedlars, the so-called torbari, used to be very popular on feast days, selling small objects of all kinds – small wooden combs, pocket mirrors, needles, knitting thread, etc. Other goods sold included tobacco, the uštipci (long and thin pieces of fried batter), cattle, etc. Since the dernek used to be held in order to celebrate a patron saint, it also included a church service in a local parish church and a procession in which almost all the village took part.


  • Alaupović Gjeldum, Dinka. "Customs and beliefs". In: Dalmatian Hinterland – unknown country, editor Vesna Kusin, 559-581. Zagreb: Klovićevi Dvori Gallery 2007.
  • Bićanić, Rudolf. Folk lifestyle – life in passive regions. Zagreb : Law School; Publishing house Globus, 1996. reprint of the 1st book from 1936 and the 2nd book from 1939.


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