The exhibition “From Christmas to Christmas – the popular piety of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina” belongs to the spiritual traditional culture displayed through religious practices, beliefs and customs. The term popular piety denotes various beliefs and religious practices, of private or common character, expressed in an atmosphere of religious worldview and faith derived from the spirit and culture of the people. Institutional and extra-institutional religious practices and beliefs permeate popular piety.
Almost all Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina are Catholics. They consider their beliefs and religious practices consistent with Catholic doctrine although sometimes extra-institutional religious practices and beliefs are not fully in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Their culture and religiosity have also been affected by the area where they live. Thus, the institutional and extra-institutional religiosity of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina rose and was shaped and developed on the periphery of East and West, on the edges of cultural and civilizational centres – Rome and Vienna on the one hand and Byzantium and Constantinople on the other. In their beliefs and religious practices, they preserved certain aspects of non-Slavic culture and the beliefs they encountered during the settlement. They maintained their Slavic heritage in their thirteen-centuries-long affiliation to Christianity, i.e. Catholicism. The beliefs and religious practices of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina were influenced by other religious communities and nationalities (Orthodox Serbs and Bosnian Muslims) that live in the same area. This is little known and looked into though. Interreligious interactions are especially strong in joint celebrations where they share holy persons, places, and the time.
This exhibition depicts a small part of the very diverse religious practices and beliefs expressed in the context of the popular piety of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The aim is to show the specifics of living religion that are important for understanding the identity of the Croatian people on the periphery of civilizations and cultures. Throughout a turbulent history, they wove the inseparable national and religious identities on the basis of the Christian faith in the resurrection and victory of good over evil. Their weft was their perception of the sacred, of themselves and of the world around them. In doing so, they wove a unique religious and national history.

Exhibiton catalog 

Popular piety of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina at Christmas time

Christmas season is marked by more intense prayers, dawn masses, the cessation of joint gatherings and celebrations, weddings for instance. With common elements such as planting wheat grains on Saint Lucy’s Day (December 13) and fasting meals prepared and eaten on Christmas Eve, the cultural specifics that complement the image of the richness of intangible heritage and local identities of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina were also illustrated. A special place in this is occupied by the art of making Christmas breads that carry various symbols and names. Among them are česnica (eastern Herzegovina), ljetnica or ljetnjača (Bosanska Posavina), srića (Buško Blato, Tomislavgrad), žitnica, večernjak and šareni kruh (Čemerno parish), krsnica (Kreševo), pogača (Kraljeva Sutjeska) and the like. Among the most decorated breads, rich in symbols, is the Christmas bread ljetnjača from Orašje with a cross and stylized hands that cover the bread and decorative motifs of the sun, moon, bora, wheat, corn, domestic animals, etc., which are placed in four gaps. In Herzegovina, bread was decorated by means of the glass cups. From one of these circles, a piece of bread was taken out to put the Christmas candles out. In addition to Christmas bread, another cultural specificity is the art of making Christmas jewellery – embroidered walnuts in Usora, the custom of lighting candles on Christmas Eve in Mali Mošunj near Vitez and the custom of Christmas well-wishers.

Popular piety of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina during Lent and Easter

Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. This time is characterized by intense piety, acts of mercy, acts of penance, and especially the strict prohibition of joint celebrations and gatherings. Lent lasts for forty days with numerous religious practices and customs on specific days and feasts in this liturgical cycle. Easter is a time of joy marked by reunions, joys and gifts, especially on the day of Easter, when coloured eggs are given.

Photo 22. Washing the dishes with ashes on Ash Wednesday in Žegar, near Bihać

After the celebration of Shrove Tuesday and joint gatherings on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, the houses and plots were cleaned up. Particular attention was paid to washing the dishes with the ashes, also called lug in some places. This was a woman’s job. Each dish used for cooking was washed in a special way with lug and then rinsed with water. Everything was thoroughly cleaned up in every household. The connoisseurs said the following: Every nook and corner of the house had to be cleaned, because that day was Ash Wednesday (called “clean” Wednesday in Croatian). Sheets were washed as well. In some parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, dishes and sheets were washed in rivers.


Popular piety of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina throughout the year

The time frame of one year starts with Christmas time through Lent and Easter
until the first Sunday of Advent. It is a time when people discuss and celebrate
various subjects from the Christian way of life: the worship of saints, the celebration of the heavenly patrons of parish communities, pilgrimages, and other
religious practices.

Zvonko Martić OCD
Zvonko Martić OCD
Jasmin Fazlagić
Ivica Kipre
Karmelina Prosoli
Martina Hrnić
Vinko Rožić
Hrvatska matica iseljenika
ravnatelj Mijo Marić
Hrvatska matica iseljenika – podružnica Dubrovnik
voditeljica Maja Mozara
Udruga za očuvanje i promicanje tradicijske kulture u Bosni i Hercegovini „Stećak“, Tomislavgrad
Hrvatska matica iseljenika
Dubrovnik/ Zagreb 23.12. 2020.- 15.1. 2021.

The organization of the exhibition were supported by the city of Dubrovnik.

The Association “Stećak” owes special gratitude for the financial support to the Foundation for musical, performing and visual arts at the Federal ministry of culture and sports and the Ministry of civil affairs in the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina.