The Christmas season in Hvar begins with the Feast of Saint Nicholas on 6 December. Today, giving presents on this occasion is quite usual, unlike some fifty years ago when this custom was reserved only for the children of rich bourgeois families. Up until that time, the youngest inhabitants of Hvar were presented gifts only by St. Lucy (celebrated on 13 December). On the eve of St. Lucy children would leave a long woollen sock, called aligombe, in the windows. They would also sing a rhyme to pray St. Lucy for gifts. Santa Lucia, mamma mia, porta i bambini in casa mia. Anyone who was not obedient and misbehaved would find onion or potato in their sock in the morning.
Although St. Nicholas was earlier considered a patron saint of the “privileged”, he is given credits for a miracle that happened more than 100 years ago: the strong south wind (jugo) was blowing when a girl named Bonka and here family were returning by boat from Hvar to Pakleni otoci. The waves were huge and the boat filled with water and overturned, and the people in her suddenly found themselves in the dark, turbulent sea. All of them managed to reach the shore except little Bonka who was captured by waves, left at the mercy of the fierce south wind and restless sea. All of a sudden, a man with a white beard approached her and held out his hand to her. She got out of the sea and returned to her family that already thought she was dead. Then, she told them and kept repeating that until her very end: “It was St. Nicholas!”
Many believers are looking forward to Novena – joint prayers that are taking place at the cathedral at 5:30. The elderly population remember the special charm of the winter, cold and dark mornings and torches they would use to illuminate the way to the church, because back then there was no electricity in the night.
Novena ends on the Christmas Eve in the morning. In the past, fasting was mandatory on the Christmas Eve. Nowadays, the usual Christmas Eve menu includes. Earlier, the people of Hvar used to prepare whatever they had – small fish, squid, collard greens (raštika), Swiss chard. A special kind of bread (bodnjok) was also mandatory part of the menu. It is special because 9 almonds are stuck in it representing 9 angelic choirs who greeted the newborn Jesus and the 9 months of St. Mary’s pregnancy.
The midnight mass would start at 21:00 on the Christmas Eve. The word has it, that it was the case because during the reign of the Venetian Republic the midnight masses were forbidden in Dalmatian towns because men would then came drunk to the church and made mess. Additionally, people are also saying that in Hvar the local noble people did not like staying up too late in the night. After the midnight mass, men would go around the town and sing (kolendrat) special songs about the arrival of the little King that also included good wishes – joy, health, abundance for the hosts whose houses they visited. The song titled “On the New Year” is full of these wishes. Various spiritual and material treasures are mentioned – various bottles of alcohol beverages, pork, turkeys and the inevitable Choux pastry fritters – fritule. The song titled “Three Kings” with its 44 stanzas is considered the longest, but not all 44 of them would never be sung at once.
Christmas tree is also a novelty in the town of Hvar. Earlier, people would only install the nativity scene on a prominent spot in their houses (betlema) – figures of the holy family, couple of shepherds and sheep. People used to purchase the figures in Italy.
The people of Hvar used to celebrate the New Year by going from house to house and giving away apples in which coins would be stuck. It was a symbolic way of expressing good wishes and abundant new year.
Na dobro von došlo sveto porojenje Gospodinovo i mlodo lito!
(Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!)