Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Croatian funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Haida people funeral traditions and Algerian funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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Croatian Religious Beliefs
Croatia is a southeastern European country with a population of about 4.19 million people as of 2016. 91.06% of Croatia’s population is Christian, with 86.28% of Christians identifying as Roman Catholic as of 2011. Catholics believe in the afterlife and that their choices on Earth determine whether they go to heaven or hell.
Burial is the most common funeral arrangement since the Catholic church doesn’t always encourage cremation. In the case of cremation, the Catholic church encourages burying the urn rather than scattering the ashes. Croatia doesn’t allow families to keep the ashes at home, so they must be buried or scattered, depending on religious beliefs.
Traditional Croatian Funeral
For a traditional Croatian funeral, they buried the deceased within 24 hours of the death. They had an all-night wake, so the deceased wasn’t alone in the dark. At the wake, mourners said goodbye and expressed condolences to the grieving family. There also was food and drinks while people shared stories about the deceased, but laughter wasn’t acceptable.
The deceased’s family did a ritual bathing of the body and dressed the deceased in formal clothing. For children and young people, the clothing was typically white. They placed a rosary in the deceased’s hand, covered the body with a white sheet, and placed a black scarf on the house door.
They carried the body out of the house head-first for the funeral procession. The procession had a specific order: the cross, men, wreaths, priest, the deceased, family, and women. People weren’t a fan of this traditional rule that had women at the end. During the procession, church bells rang and people knelt if they went by the procession. There also were professional mourners that followed behind and cried loudly. In the winter, they used chariots and sleds to transport the body. Sometimes, to symbolize their grief, they took one wheel off of the chariot: the right wheel for men and the left wheel of women.
Women wore all black to the funeral, including a scarf on their head, while men wore a black ribbon or button. Pregnant women and children couldn’t attend. Mourners didn’t let their tears fall onto the grave. Afterward, they didn’t take the burial tools home because they weren’t considered clean. They also shook the dirt off of their shoes or took them off before going inside, though some people believed the dirt protected them against evil so they brought it inside purposely.
Croatian Funeral Today
Today for a Croatian funeral, they wait at least 24 hours before the burial. There is typically a Catholic funeral mass at a church with a wake before it. Mourners may still wear black clothing or choose alternative colors that aren’t too bright. The funeral is a serious and sad occasion rather than a more lively celebration of life.
There also is a graveside burial ceremony with the priest and sometimes a post-funeral meal. On the anniversary of the death, the deceased’s family may attend a mass in their honor.