After a beautiful week of warm weather, we have officially welcomed in winter. Well, winter wasn't really welcomed by me but it is here whether I like it or not. The new season was marked with cold weather, frosty mornings, a decorated downtown and holiday events. So not all bad.
Yep, I now leave the house with my coat, scarf, gloves and ear muffs. I hate having to layer up so much, but with many events that require a 15+ minute walk, bundling up is a must.
Yesterday, it even snowed! Well, I would call it snow. They call these misty, small flakes susnježica (sleet), and do not actually say snijeg (snow) until loads of fluffy flakes fall. Here in Zagreb, we can expect one or two big snows each winter, but nothing crazy. The city is well equipped to clear the roads, even up to the mountains. No easy snow days here.
You have all heard of Advent, right? You know those calendars with candy or a surprise for every day in December leading up to Christmas? Well, the entire holiday season here is referred to as Advent. A candle was lit four weeks prior to Christmas, marking the beginning of the festivities. Croatia is predominately Catholic, and there are several smaller holidays throughout the season they observe.
After that, the Christmas Market began: white booths with food and goods, lights strung all over, an ice skating rink installed. It is quite magical when you walk downtown at night. In Europe as a whole, visiting Christmas Markets is a huge deal. Cities like Vienna and Salzburg are famous for their amazing Christmas Markets, and people from all over Europe travel to see them.
We heard from other Americans that "must-do" items at the Christmas Market include eating sausages and fritules, drinking kuhano vino (mulled wine), shopping for neat gifts and ice skating. Last night, we checked sausages and kuhano vino off our list! I do not know why they do not carry both of these year-round - we would be frequent customers if they did.
In the main square, a big decorated tree serves as the centerpiece. A stage to its right showcases choirs and bands all week, and fun decorations all over the square make it feel like a winter wonderland.
Croatian Ethno House
Last weekend, the embassy hosted a tour of the Croatian Ethno House. We saw traditional Croatian life come alive.
One of the most beautiful parts of the tour was seeing the large nativity scene made of corn husks. A world-famous nun creates nativity scenes out of natural materials she finds in nature, and her corn husk work is her most famous (even blessed by the Pope!). She let everyone create their own corn husk angel ornament on our visit. I would show you mine, but I chose to drink local wine instead. Typical.
Plus there was a corner in the house with an old sewing machine and materials. It reminded me of both of my Grandmas and the craftiness they passed on to me. The house also had a look to make fabric from thread, but I do not get THAT DIY in my crafts.
Every year, the International Women's Club in Zagreb hosts a Christmas Bazaar for charity. Countries and international groups from Zagreb hosts tables and sell products to the public. All proceeds this year went to a Croatian kindergarten and a children's music school.
The US table featured many products I personally miss from home like maple syrup, cake mixes (the ones here are too bitter), DR. PEPPER!, homemade cookies and beef jerky. I helped both our table and the IWCZ throughout the day, and I sampled food and drinks from Japan, India, Italy and Ireland. Delish and for a good cause!
The Nutcracker Ballet
For the first time, Bret and I saw the Nutcracker Ballet live. The quickly sold-out show runs from mid-December to early January, and we snagged tickets while they were still available. The ballet took place in the Croatian National Theater, and it was truly a beautiful production in a beautiful building. I had forgotten how many songs were made famous by the Nutcracker!
Many other families from the Embassy also attended, so it was a fun outing for a lot of us. Beforehand, we walked around Cvjetni Trg (Flower Square) and soaked in the beautiful food, mulled wine and sights.
One thing I hope we continue to do in every city is to take in the local culture. I am so glad we are checking events like this off our list! I know we are not jet-setting at a fast pace, but we are trying to soak in tons of "Croatian things" while we are here.
How is your winter going so far?
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