CulturallyOurs Culture Of Carnival In Croatia Bird Costume

Exploring The Tradition Of Carnival in Rijeka Croatia

CulturallyOurs Culture Of Carnival In Croatia Bird Costume

Impressions of a Brazilian exploring the tradition of carnival in Rijeka, Croatia.

How many of us feel like the new year starts off a whole new year of celebrations? Most of us have barely gotten over Christmas and suddenly one by one the festivities start to roll in. In many countries, January kicks off the Spring festivals like including carnival season in places like Rio de Janeiro, Québec, Venice, Cologne and Croatia. Today we have Debora Pedroni who is taking us on a virtual trip to explore and learn about carnival season in Croatia.CulturallyOurs Culture Of Carnival In CroatiaFrom Deb,

Ask any Brazilian and the one festival they anxiously look for is carnival season. Traditionally held in February, it is a magical time in Rio where we Brazilians get to dress up, spend hours on the streets in elaborate costumes wearing bikinis of all colors. But unfortunately, I am not back home in Rio, the land of Carnival. I am not home to awe at giant parades and colorful costumes, to hear samba schools sing songs about Brazilian culture and lifestyle, or to celebrate rich Brazilian folklore of different tribes. I am not celebrating the biggest and most popular carnival in the world. Instead, I am in Rijeka Croatia living near another ‘Rio’ as the words Rio and Rijeka both mean ‘river’. But Croatia has its own version of carnival.

Although carnival in Rio and carnival is Croatia celebrate similar things, they are both very different in the way they are celebrated. The first carnival that was held in the 17th century was a way to celebrate the spring harvest and elaborate feasts were organized to give honor to the Greek wine gods.

Origins of carnival in Croatia

Carnival in Croatia originated centuries ago as a mark of Catholicism. It begins each year in early January and usually ends on the night before Ash Wednesday where a Fašnik – which symbolically represents all of the vices of the past year is burned.

January in Croatia is still very cold and windy. So, it seems kind of weird or impossible to dress up in minimalistic costumes, like the “mulatas” and “samba passistas” and carnival performers that eagerly wait the whole year for this glorious moment.

Just like the traditional themes and folkloric aspects in Rio, carnival in Rijeka also includes local legends and traditions that are enacted in costumes. An infinite number of masked enthusiasts show up on the main streets of the city in a good mood, ready to dance, enjoy themselves and forget their problems. This spirit is pretty much the same if compared to Rio, although in Croatia it lasts longer. In Rio, carnival only lasts for about a week. But in Croatia, carnival typically lasts anywhere from three to four weeks. Carnivals in Croatia also includes competitions for creative costumes and decorations. They are judged creativity, originality and humor – the key elements for a successful parade. At the Rio carnival, things are more serious in terms of judging which is typically done by a group of judges.

What both Carnivals have in common is the fact that the traditions, cultural customs and folklore are being preserved and spread through generations. Carnival, whether in Rio or in Croatia, is a way for people to unwind and enjoy life.

Carnival in Rijeka

The carnival in the port city of Rijeka is the largest and most famous Croatian carnival and has a long tradition. Rijeka carnival is typically celebrated between Mid-January through Mid-February. It all starts with the Carnival Queen Pageant and the handover of the city key to the Master of the Carnival, who is responsible for officially opening the city gates and letting the festivities begin.CulturallyOurs Culture Of Carnival In Croatia Sheep CostumesPhoto by Branimir Cupar, Flickr

Not only do adults are participate on the parties, but even children are welcome at the parades that take place Rijeka’s main street, the promenade Korzo. Children often dress up in various characters from popular fairytales. The Children Carnival Parade is a traditional party where masked children bring all the country’s folklore to life. The children’s parade is something all the locals of Rijeka are very proud of.Located in the northern region of Croatia, Rijeka is a port city very close to some cities in Italy, so the place receives thousands of Italian tourists during the season. It is not complicated to get around Rijeka, as the city has an extensive public transportation system. Train connections are also convenient if you decide to travel from other cities in Croatia from Zagreb or Split. Tickets are purchased directly from the bus driver and vary according to the zone for about $2 to $3 USD.

If you do plan to travel to Rijeka for carnival, it is best to book accommodations in advance. Many hotels, hostels and apartment rentals can be found close to Korzo, such as Guesthouse Korzo, Hotel Adria, Hotel Continental or Central Rijeka Hotel Apartments. While in Rijeka make sure to visit places like the Rijeka Cathedral, the Trsat Castle, and museums such as the Maritime and History Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Carnival in Opatija

Carnival in the city of Opatija includes a parade of elaborately decorated floats. Although they are not as grand and colorful as the ones in Rio’s carnival, they are just as exciting to watch. Here masked participants driving their floats down the steep streets of Opatija, often risking life and limb.Other carnival customs in the Kvarner region include the procession of bell ringers called Zvončari of Kastav near Rijeka. CulturallyOurs Culture Of Carnival In Croatia Sheep CostumesPhoto by Branimir Cupar, Flickr

They dress in sheepskins and hide behind animal masks roaming the streets welcoming Spring and exorcising all the evil spirits of winter. The Zvončari wear white trousers, blue and white t-shirts, a sheep skin, a red bandana and bells. This tradition is so steeped in culture and history of the region that since 2009, it has been included on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.CulturallyOurs Culture Of Carnival Parade in RijekaPhoto by Croatia4Travel

Carnival in Split and Dubrovnik

Over the years carnival parades have also been organized in other towns and cities across Croatia.

The carnival in Split differs from those in other Croatian cities because it includes elaborate masked balls that people can attend. The carnival in Dubrovnik dates back to the 14th century. Since at that time masks were banned, people wore national costumes instead. At the beginning of the 20th century social differences were very visible among the communities in Croatia so while the aristocrats held their masked balls in palaces, the commoners celebrated on the streets below.CulturallyOurs Culture Of Carnival In CroatiaI highly recommend that you get a taste of the Carnival spirit in places like Rijeka or even Split and come to Croatia to celebrate with your friends and family. It is a very different side of Croatia that is beautiful and culturally-rich.

Thank you Deb for such a fantastic walkthrough about carnival in Croatia. It sounds like such a wonderful celebration of culture, tradition and folklore. Plus the fact that the party lasts almost three to four weeks is something quite interesting! A great way to welcome Spring.

Have you been to carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Québec, Venice, Cologne or Croatia?

{Words by Debora Pedroni; Facebook: Debora P P Katunaric ; Instagram: @debypedronik}

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Leave your comments below

  1. Ann says:

    Oh wow, what an experience!
    I love visitng festivals in different countries, its always a great way to find out more about the culture 🙂

  2. Jenn says:

    I didn’t know Croatia celebrated carnival!! We are traveling here soon so I was drawn to this post! So exciting to learn more about their culture.