Halloween is an iconic celebration that has been an indispensable part of pop culture for decades, originating in Ireland and quickly spreading to the US, Japan, China, Mexico, and many other places across the globe. While fashionably late, Croatia has jumped on the bandwagon in recent years, with costume parties, spooky menu items in cafés and bars, and stores filled with orange and black decorations with jack-o’-lantern and spider-web motifs. Those looking to play dress-up and have a fun night out love Halloween, but not everyone is on board. How come?
Celebrated the night before All Saints’ Day, a revered and important Catholic holiday for many Croatians, many people find Halloween to be controversial. Even looking up Halloween online in Croatian will mostly yield articles calling the celebration blasphemous and dangerous, talking about Halloween originating from witches summoning demons and the like. While some scholars do believe that Halloween stems from medieval Christian traditions, the most widespread theory is that the celebration is rooted in pagan traditions from an ancient Gaelic festival called Samhain. Samhain, however, was simply a festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, having nothing to do with black magic at all. In fact, this festival is quite similar to a well-known Croatian tradition called ‘fašnik’, ‘poklade’, or ‘maškare’ – a masked carnival that takes place all around Croatia in February, just before Ash Wednesday. ‘Fašnik’ is said to have roots in pagan Slavic traditions where people wore masks in celebration of the upcoming spring, but also to ward off evil spirits. Croatia has its own version of Halloween, go figure!
Regardless of its origins, Halloween, as we know it today, is an all-American celebration, and Croatia is following suit. Influenced in part by the rapid growth of the international community all around the country, as well as an ever-increasing number of exchange students, Halloween celebrations have been gaining popularity everywhere. Children in creative costumes go trick-or-treating and carve pumpkins, all the party hotspots throw costume parties and even costume contests, cafés make special spooky drinks, and some movie theaters play horror classics. Cities like Zagreb and Dubrovnik even offer haunted tours for those wanting to get a unique perspective and a creepy glimpse of the past. Of course, ESN Croatia has hosted a variety of Halloween-themed events as well. From yearly themed Halloween parties in Zagreb and Osijek to speciality drinks made only for ESNers in Dubrovnik, to haunted tours around town in Split, to pumpkin carving in Zadar, we have been keeping up with the trends!
Even though Halloween has only been popular in Croatia for less than a decade, there are plenty of festivities to make all your spooky wishes come true, so get your costume ready, gather your friends and prepare to have fun on the scariest night of the year!
Written by: Matea Lapornik (active member of ESN Zagreb)
Proofread by: Željka Gligora (Vice-Chair of the Croatian Communication Committee)