Monday, 21 December 2020

Richness of Traditional Croatian Christmas Songs In One Spotify Playlist

December 21, 2020 – Among many other things, Croatia can also be proud of its Christmas music tradition. For the perfect Christmas atmosphere, Croatian musician and guitarist Mihael Majetić singled out 54 of the best traditional Croatian Christmas songs in one Spotify playlist.

Traditional Croatian Christmas songs are considered the most numerous in the world, but it isn't easy to count them because they are mostly preserved by word of mouth. They are a precious and favorite part of the rich Croatian Christmas tradition, but also the Croatian cultural identity, and they belong to the most diverse and beautiful in the world.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many musical events had to be postponed this year, including many Christmas concerts showing their splendor every year. Choral church singing is also limited. However, despite the many negativities that 2020 brought to the Croatian and world music scene, some positive changes have taken place.

One of them is, of course, the arrival of the streaming service Spotify on the Croatian market, which allows Croatians to stream music without interruption, while Croatian musicians have another platform on which their music can be available. Therefore, this year, instead of experiencing live concerts, Croatians can stream music via Spotify. Due to this year's overall situation, traditional Croatian Christmas songs can be listened to exclusively in the pleasant home environment, but this in no way diminishes their beauty.

The incredible repertoire of traditional (but also popular) Croatian Christmas songs is now even more accessible. And to separate them all from the sea of different Christmas songs and gather them in one place, Croatian musician and guitarist with a London address, Mihael Majetić, compiled a playlist of 54 creative and original arrangements of traditional Croatian Christmas songs on Spotify.

A native of the Slavonian city of Valpovo, Mihael attended the Elly Bašić High School of Music in Zagreb and then continued his education at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London. He graduated last year and currently lives in London.

"The main guiding thought when choosing the songs was the quality of the arrangement and performance. The playlist includes exclusively Croatian traditional songs, but performed in different styles. So, in addition to the classics, you can also hear jazz, salsa, R'n'B, klapa, and tamburitza players. I do not claim that the list is final. I may even adjust it. And I will certainly be grateful if someone contacts me with suggestions that I may have missed," says Mihael, whose interest in the work of other musicians led him to listen to Croatian Christmas albums and thus making this playlist. In addition to performing and teaching guitar, he is also involved in arranging music.

The rich playlist includes some of the most famous names from the Croatian music scene, such as the recently deceased Krunoslav Kićo Slabinac, also one of the first Croatian musicians to record a Christmas album back in 1982. Although he was celebrated for his "bećarac "and rock songs, his album "Christmas with Kićo" became the best-selling Christmas album in the region of all time, with more than half a million copies sold. Out of the 11 Christmas songs from the album, two found their place on this playlist – "U to vrijeme godišta" ("At that time of year") and "Narodi nam se (kralj nebeski)" ("The king of heaven was born"). By the way, these are two very old archaic Croatian songs, and Kićo's versions are adorned with the inevitable overtones of tamburitza in the background.

The song "U to vrijeme godišta", or the old Chakavian form "U se vrime godišča" has its origin in the Latin tune "In hoc ani circulo" from the repertoire of St. Martial in the 11th century in the French city of Limoges. This tune spread from Italy to the Croatian south and from the Czech Republic to the Croatian north. Due to its popularity, it was given an honorary performance before the Christmas Gospel during Holy Mass.

"U to vrijeme godišta", otherwise the most widespread song in all three Croatian dialects (Chakavian, Kajkavian, and Shtokavian), according to musicologist Miha Demović, has a Glagolitic inscription, and the oldest dates from the 14th century. Apart from Kićo's songs, this playlist includes performances by the group Cubismo and composer Igor Kuljerić, conductor Tonči Bilić, and the Croatian Radio and Television Choir. Both versions of the song, Shtokavian and Chakavian, can be found on the playlist performed by the Mostar Cathedral Choir together with the Mostar Symphony Orchestra and composer Nikica Kalogjer, and singer Josipa Lisac and the Ivan Goran Kovačić Choir.

Apart from "U to vrijeme godišta," the song "Narodi nam se" is one of the oldest traditional Croatian Christmas songs. As reported by the Hrvatska katolička mreža (Croatian Catholic Network), and explained by Tihomir Prša, professor of church music at the Faculty of Teacher Education, University of Zagreb, this song dates back to the 13th century. Namely, Christ's name "young king" from the song reminds of the time of Arpadović in Croatia when the Hungarian kings wanted to crown their firstborn king as soon as possible. The expression "young year" reminds of the time when the new year began in Croatia on Christmas, and it was not after the 13th century. All worship services and all Croatian Christmas albums conclude with it.

The already mentioned performers also found a place on this playlist with the performances of the song "Narodi nam se se", and the performance of the Croatian singer Marija Husar from her album "Plesni Božić "("Dance Christmas") from 2009 is lovely.

The song "Kyrie eleison" which translated from Greek means "Lord, have mercy", is also one of the most famous Croatian Christmas songs, despite the Greek title and parts of the song in Greek. According to the first manuscript, it originates from the 19th century in Međimurje, and professor Prša reveals that the song was written by the Kolaj family. The author of the word was organist Janko Kolaj from Kotoriba. His son Ambrozius wrote down the words of a song from 1835.

Of the other traditional Croatian Christmas songs, the most famous are "Radujte se narodi" (Rejoice, people), "Veselje ti navješćujem" (I announce joy to you), "Svim na Zemlji" (To all on Earth), "Djetešce nam se rodilo" (A child was born), "Oj pastiri, čudo novo" (Oh shepherd, a new miracle). The only foreign song that is sung during the Christmas Mass in Croatia is "Silent Night". Christmas songs have a special meaning for Croats because they express their faith and find haven in them.

In addition to the already mentioned performers, the playlist includes performances by singer Marko Tolja, singer Mia Dimšić, composer Igor Geržina, pianist Matija Dedić, Jazz Orchestra of the Croatian Radio and Television (Big Band), music duo Marko & Laci featuring Zita and Ivana, composer Anđelko Igrec, the only organ duo in Croatia – Quattro Obbligato, and Klapa Luka Ploče.

To follow Mihael Majetić, visit his profiles on Spotify, Facebook, and Instagram, as well as his website.

To read more news about Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Five Christmas Traditions from Croatia to California and Back

December 23, 2019 - A look at my family's Christmas traditions, from Croatia to California and back. 

Christmas is a holiday that my family has always placed on a pedestal a bit higher than the rest. It was that special day when 50 of our Croatian family members and closest friends gathered at our home in Fallbrook, California. It was a time when we’d run ourselves into the ground cleaning, cooking, and baking for the entire week before. We’d argue over seating arrangements and when my mother toyed with the idea of doing a buffet or switching up the always standard menu. Every detail had to be perfect, and more importantly, our traditions couldn’t stand to be tweaked. 

My family’s Christmas traditions are thanks to my grandmother and grandfather, who carried them from Croatia to New York and California. They were unique because they were unfamiliar to those held by the families we knew in the United States, but to us, it wouldn’t be Christmas without them. Over time, and as our dinner parties grew larger, we introduced new appetizers and desserts only to ensure everyone was adequately fed, so long as everything else remained the same. 

It didn’t take long for our American friends to adopt some of our traditions as their own, and today, more than 55 years later, I’m happy to say that though we may have moved back to Croatia and our famous Californian-Croatian Christmas parties have retired, we have not strayed away from what makes Christmas ours. 

A look at my family’s Christmas traditions, from Croatia to California and back. 

Bakalar: It wasn’t Christmas until that package arrived in the mail from my great aunt New York. Growing up, bakalar wasn’t the easiest to find in sunny San Diego, and going to great lengths to get it was our only option. Fortunately, we were lucky to have a core group of family members who ensured we wouldn’t spend Christmas without it. One of the smellier traditions we have, I often recall my brother and I running around the house with our shirts pulled over our noses to hide the stench. It didn’t help. Over the years, we discovered bakalar in the Little Italy district of San Diego and finding fish in the post became a thing of the past. My grandmother only ever prepared bakalar ‘bianco’, and we'd always pair it with a hot cup of our powerful tea punch (a rum and riesling punch that'll have you woozy after one glass). 


Lobster spaghetti: Bakalar isn’t the only star of our Christmas Eve -  because we must down for lobster spaghetti, too. I have many memories of my grandmother in the kitchen peacefully putting the live lobsters to sleep. The secret ingredient to the sauce is Dalmatia’s sweet dessert wine, prošek. Lobsters were a lot easier to find in California, so we’ve amended the recipe to scampi in Croatia instead. It tastes the same, though it’s a bit messier now. 


Fritule: Every Christmas morning, without fail, we’d wake up to my mother’s fritule. You could hardly escape the sweet smell permeating through the house, which would eventually lead us to our presents under the tree. My mother’s fritule have a tinge of tang thanks to a citrus zest, while the piles of powdered sugar on top are a dream for any child on Christmas morning. I have a feeling we'll be enjoying Christmas morning fritule for eternity.


Sarma: In true Croatian fashion, our Christmas table featured sarma. My grandmother would count enough to ensure each person had at least two. We’d serve these beloved sour cabbage rolls on oversized platters next to a pot of piping hot mashed potatoes. Perhaps equally as exciting is the smoked meat we’d serve alongside it that cooked in the sarma’s juices. While our Christmas dinners now don’t see as many, sarma still steals the show - and we're always guaranteed at least two.



Croatian Christmas sweets: Our dessert table was always stocked on Christmas Day thanks to my grandmother's steady hands that worked day and night for the week before. From vanilla roščići to krokant, linzer cookies, bobići, and rafioli, we had the delightful flavors of Dalmatia in our home for everyone to enjoy. Nothing has changed. 


To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page

Saturday, 24 December 2016

A Croatian Christmas Staple: Fritule

Fritule, a staple at any Croatian Christmas table, is delicious, addicting, and the perfect holiday treat.