Why I Won't Be Celebrating Saint Patrick's Day in Croatia

If you’re walking about Croatia today, you may seem surprised by the decorations in the downtown core of some of the larger cities and towns decked in green and inviting you into the neighborhood joint for a pint. It’s Saint Patrick’s Day. The only problem is you are not in Ireland, rather, if you are reading this you are probably located in Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, Dubrovnik, Osijek, Varazdin, or any of the other numerous towns where the pubs and Trgs are getting ready to roll like its rural Ireland. Only it isn't.

Ever since independence almost thirty years ago, I’ve noticed this strange phenomenon taking over Croatian towns. I am referring of course to the manifestation of foreign celebrations. I noticed in the early 2000s when I lived in Zagreb and a group of American expat friends and I decided to spend a memorable weekend in Lovran, turkey in tow, to celebrate US Thanksgiving holidays. At the time, I thought we were the only ones, but when I went to Konzum looking for turkey’s I quickly noticed I wasn’t the only one inspecting gobblers and wondering if they also sold frozen cranberries (unbelievably enough, they did!). When I returned to Zagreb a few days later and mentioned our little sojourn to Croatian friends, some scoffed while others seemed intrigued. My assistant at the time, I a pleasant young woman from Glina, even asked if I could write down some of the Thanksgiving day recipes for her so that she could prepare a Thanksgiving meal for her family a few weeks later. Overall, the impression I had gotten was that Croatians in general, were not that inclined to follow foreign holidays, preferring their own.

However, I may have been too rash in judgment on that. A year or so later I vividly recall Zagreb all decked out in spooky Halloween attire, with orange lanterns, black cats and witches out in full force on Tkalciceva and along the Zeleni Val. “Now what?” I thought to myself. The clubs were doing a swinging business with young people receiving the perfect excuse to get decked up in not so legal attire (women especially) and drown their sorrows with alcohol, on the pretext that this somehow follows a sort of Halloween tradition if one isn't sitting around at home and waiting for the trick or treaters.

Then there were the smaller holidays that managed to make their way in between. I recall a memorable night, again in Rijeka and its surroundings, with the same group of American friends as they celebrated US Independence Day with fireworks (the Croatians called the police unsure of someone being drunk or rowdy and not entirely certain of which occasion it was either). When the police showed up to ask what we were doing they looked about as confused as parents dropping their kids off at school on a PA day. We explained that we were celebrating US Independence Day. The young Croatian police officer raised an eyebrow and asked, “do you even know when Croatian Independence Day is?” It wasn’t meant to be a rude question, but it was a good one and it made me think to all the times I couldn’t quite grasp the difference between Independence Day and the Day of the Homeland Thanksgiving. Does anybody else in Croatia have this problem? With each successive government coming and going, I sometimes got the impression that those dates were changed pending on who had the majority in Sabor. So, like the majority of Croatian citizens, it’s not that I don’t wish to partake in the revelries, it’s just the dates sound so similar for so many holidays that at some point one loses track.

Sometimes it even feels as if the government is inventing new holidays on the back of an old one. This happened a few months ago last year when I couldn’t recall what Tijelovo (Corpus Christi) was or why we were celebrating it so close to Labour Day. But let me get back to the subject of Saint Patrick’s Day, which happens to be today, and which is being celebrated in many countries other than Ireland, Croatia included.

My experience with Saint Patrick’s has always been a fond one and for most of my 44 years of existence on this planet, I have celebrated it because it is a big deal in Canada and the US, where I spent many formative years. The obvious reason is both countries have long connections to Ireland and many immigrants of Irish descent live there. I lived in Toronto, Boston and Washington, DC and all three cities would host Saint Patrick’s Day parades and on the actual day of Saint Patrick’s feast, today, people would leave work early to pour into downtown squares and pubs and enjoy a pint or two with friends. Myself included. It was an excuse to be Irish for the day. The funny thing of all is if you know me, I don’t drink a drop of alcohol so my being there was more of the wallpaper effect to cheer friends on as well as it is just something to do.

Now, while I am all for such revelry in places which at least boast a historic connection to Ireland, the idea of celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day in Croatia seems baffling to me. There is zero connection to Ireland and although I am the world’s worst Catholic, Croatia has now connection to Saint Patrick himself. I am writing this from Iceland which has a far greater connection to the man, and even has towns named after him, versus Croatia. I’m not saying that people in Croatia shouldn’t celebrate Saint Patrick, all I am saying is I won’t be one of them. Why? Well, I think Croatia has a pretty strong tradition of producing quite a few historical saints and Christian martyrs who get absolutely no respect these days other than the big ones like Sveti Vlaho in Dubrovnik and Sveti Duje in Split. Zagreb’s saint should be Saint Stephen and Saint Mark, but I don’t see people drinking or toasting their health to these two great fella’s. Why don’t Dalmatians raise a pint to Diocletian? If it wasn’t for him and his palace complex we Splicani probably wouldn’t be basking in the tourism bank now would we? Furthermore, when we immigrate, we don’t take our Christian symbols with us the way the Irish do so what’s the point of honoring a foreign Christian saint when we could be doing more to resurrect our own? Now I know many will argue I have no right to say this considering I make fewer church appearances on a yearly basis than Donald Trump does apologizing, but the truth is I think there is something extraordinarily corny in celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day in a country the size of Croatia with a patron saint to be found in every city, town and village. I for one just won’t do it.