Croats - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Croatians are mainly Roman Catholic, with small percentages of Uniates (Eastern Orthodox Christians, recognizing the pope), Protestants, and Muslims. Some pre-Christian elements have been integrated into Christian beliefs and practices. Other influences on Croatian religious beliefs and practices have come from European and Near Eastern cultures, from rural and urban traditions alike, resulting in an amalgam of different heritages. Sacred and religious aspects of traditional culture were neglected during the Socialist period because religion was relegated solely to the private sphere of life. The first post-Communist government is reintroducing the Catholic church into public life in many conspicuous ways.

In traditional culture, there had been many beliefs connected with the dead, as well as many beliefs in fairies, vampires (who disturb their relatives by sucking their blood), witches (demonic women), mythic female beings who determine the fate of children, or others who choke people during sleep. There is still a widespread belief in the evil eye, in the power of casting spells over people or over their property, and in various protective magical acts. Traditionally, people paid special respect to animals to which they attributed supernatural properties (e.g., snake as a house protector). Such beliefs have disappeared or are slowly fading away, but they have been transmitted through and persist in myths, legends, tales, and poems.

Ceremonies. Ceremonies and rituals can be divided into several types—annual celebrations associated with church holy days, life-cycle events, and work rituals (the last group is connected with harvest, building of a house, etc.). The most prominent among calendrical rituals are those of Christmas Eve— badnjak, the burning of the yule log, an older tradition; the decoration of a Christmas tree, a newer tradition; and all sorts of practices linked to the cult of the deceased—and koleda, men's processions during the period between Christmas and New Year's. Mardi Gras carnival celebrations featuring processions and burning of a straw effigy have been revived recently thanks to the mass media and tourist agencies. In spring, in addition to Easter celebrations (including coloring of eggs), there used to be various village processions (on St. George's Day, First of May, Ascension Day, Whitsuntide, etc.) and bonfires (especially on St. John's Day in June). Those processions and bonfires were apotropaic rituals meant for the protection of people, fields, and cattle and for promoting fertility. There were also new rituals created in the Socialist period, such as celebrations of Workers' Day on 1 May and of International Women's Day on 8 March. Both were canceled in 1991. Among life-cycle rituals, most important are those centering on birth, marriage, and death. Today some new ones have emerged (e.g., the day of graduation, especially in cities), while the old ones have an impoverished repertoire. A wedding traditionally has been the most important family and community event. It once consisted of a complex of ritual events such as solemn carrying over of the bride's trousseau, humorous negotiations over false brides when the wedding party arrived at the bride's house, and symbolic acts by the bride upon arrival at bridegroom's home (holding a male child in her lap, sweeping the floor, starting the fire on the hearth, etc). Death gave rise to numerous beliefs, most important being the belief in life after death, marked by feasting ceremonies and loud laments for the deceased ( naricanje ).

Arts. A wide variety of folk music is found among Croatians. Specific features are exhibited in tonal relationships of tunes and instrumental melodies. The musical styles range from a rather old, narrow-intervals style (in which the intervals in the tonal ranges are sometimes narrower than the intervals between the twelve equal semitones in an octave), in central and south Croatia, to a widespread contemporary style called "in bass" singing, in eastern Croatia. Folk music is interwoven with all kinds of everyday and festive activities (especially working songs, weddings, and spring processions). Today, its main function is entertainment. The main instruments used to accompany the singing are cordophones and aerophones. Dances differ as much as do tunes and instruments. Today they are almost restored to their pre-World War II forms, thanks to their revival on stage; forms include the couple dance, a closed circle dance ( drmeš ), and circles and lines. Artistic expression can be found on decorative clothes, wood carving, pottery, pictures painted on glass, metalwork, and even egg painting. Oral literature is dominated by epic poetry. Among lyric poetry, the Dalmatian ballads are noteworthy (Adriatic coast). The earliest records of oral literature are from the sixteenth century and point to a wide variety of genres. Croatian art also includes church architecture, frescoes, reliefs, and decorated facades and balconies.

In the twentieth century, painting, sculpture, and music have exploded in various styles. Architecture suffered under the planned socialist economy.

Medicine. Folk medicine was imbued with magic, but it was also rational, especially in the identification, preparation, and use of medicinal herbs. The pharmaceutical industry has incorporated some of this folk knowledge in the production of herbal drugs.

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