Croatian festivals and events revolve around tradition, culture, music, dance, religious and secular occasions, and are celebrated with enormous enthusiasm by the citizens of this newly independent country. Most large cities hold their own pre-Lenten carnivals, many of which have existed for centuries. Two of the best are the Rijeka Carnival and the Dubrovnik Carnival.
Rijeka International Carnival
The traditional roots of the Rijeka Carnival go back years, with highlights such as ‘ugly masks’ reputed to chase away demons and evil spirits, street parties, a famous International Parade with participants representing countries around the world, a Children’s Parade, and large-scale eating and drinking. Tens of thousands of visitors come to Croatia for the celebration beginning on January 17, which runs for five weeks.
Feast of St Blaise, Dubrovnik
St Blaise is the patron saint of Dubrovnik, whose birthday has been celebrated on Candlemas for over 800 years. On February 2, white doves are released from St Blaise’s Church, and the day of festivities sees a morning mass, grand parade with reliquaries and images carried by elaborately costumed local people and festivities in the square around the church. The historic event is on UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage list.
Celebrated every February in Croatia for the last 600 years in the heart of Dubrovnik, Carnival on Stradun Street is crowded with locals in fabulous costumes or futuristic get-ups, riders in medieval armor carrying lances, street theater performers and bands. The main parade is magnificent and there are jousting competitions, masquerade balls and street parties.
Split Olympic Sailing Week
March in Split sees the arrival of the beautiful people and their equally beautiful yachts for a week of racing along Croatia’s southern coast. People-watching and celebrity-spotting are favorites at this time.
The symbols of Easter in Croatia are the gorgeously decorated Pisanica Eggs, dating back to Slavic pagan times and adopted into Christian celebrations in the 9th century. The festival begins on Palm Sunday, with many towns holding parades of religious icons nightly. Coastal townspeople don traditional costumes and sing hymns; reenacting bible stories and blessing the city gates.
Croatian Statehood Day
Held annually in June, Statehood Day is one of the most important festivals for Croatians as it celebrates the creation of an independent nation rising from the ashes of a war-torn land. Festivities take place all over the country with official and unofficial events; but this is not to be confused with October’s Independence Day.
Split Summer Festival
The Split Summer Festival is an open-air feast of plays, concerts, operas, and ballet performances taking place July and August in Diocletian’s Palace, the Basement Halls and many other venues. Outdoor stages are set up for international and Croatian artists and musicians, and the festival attracts a large number of overseas visitors.
Zadar Night of the Full Moon
August’s full moon is a time of traditional along the coastline around Zadar’s harbor. All the lights are turned off and the quays and harbor are lit by candles. Singing, dancing, eating and viewing the full moon in all its splendor are favorite occupations during this romantic night.
Ozijek International Pannonian Challenge
This unique August event is a must for fans of extreme sports, as is draws international names and talented amateurs in stunt-riding, mountain biking, skateboarding and inline skating to give shows and demonstrations for a huge audience.
International Puppet Theater Festival
Zagreb’s International Puppet Festival kicks off in September and attracts profession and amateur puppeteers from all over the world. Running for over 45 years now, performances take place in many of Croatia’s theaters, streets and squares, drawing huge audiences of locals and visitors. The shows last for five days and are split between children’s and adult themes.
Christmas and New Year
Christmas celebrations all over Croatia kick off December 6 with pretty lights, carols, markets, and concerts. Christmas Day is a family occasion, beginning with midnight mass, traditional foods and folk customs. Djed Mraz is Santa Claus in Croatia, who brings gifts on St Nicholas Day, New Year’s Day or Christmas Day. The New Year is a huge time for celebrations with fireworks, bonfires, local cuisine and parties everywhere.