In "old normality" Split celebrated Christmas same way as in the whole Christian world, but with plenty of special, local traditions and customs. Today, a lot of things will be different, with limited gatherings and travels, and many events cancelled. Even religious segment, the one related to mass other church ceremonies, will be way different than usual. This year, with hope that pandemic will end soon, we will be without everything that is part of holidays season in Split and Dalmatia; enjoying socializing, singing and holiday spirit, Advent in Split, etc. When some place has a climate as Split has, winter joys include sunglasses. This year it's much more important to use face masks, to maintain distance and to keep safe yourself and others.
On the other hand, nature of Christmas is to spend it and celebrate it with our families and beloved. So, why not do it in a way Dalmatia always did it, and still does? Get together on Christmas Eve, or for Christmas meal. There are only a few things more important.
In Split, just like in the most of the Mediterranean, main dish for Christmas Eve is cod fish, although this fish species don't live in the Adriatic. However, it's one of symbols of this holiday for centuries. Reasons are hidden in the past, you could read about it in this blog. Life will be much sweeter with fritule. You can buy it, but it's still the most beautiful to make and eat this fried dough with raisins at home. There is also mandulat, elsewhere known as turrón, and make a toast with a glass of wine, or Dalmatian desert wine with sweets.
Christmas eve is also time when trees are decorated, with nativity scene underneath. Those more religious and more faithful to traditions will sing Christmas songs, and attend Midnight mass. Of course, with churches following epidemiology rules they will be much emptier than usual. Faithful will have to watch their usual services via television.
Speaking of midnight mass, did you know there is one in Split you can attend one at 4 pm? To do it, you need to go to Marjan forest park, to beautiful little church Our Lady of Bethlehem, built in 15th century. There, enjoy serenity and sanctity of the moment with one of the most wonderful views on sea and Marjan.
One tradition in Split almost died out, carol singing, still very vivid in Dubrovnik where groups of people walk from house to house in what they call kolende.
In the past, and there are places where this tradition is still alive, a blessed log was burned in the fireplace. In urban areas this custom is mostly gone, because it's hard to find a house or an apartment with a fireplace. Once, it was very important, and ash of the burned log was spread in the field. Throughout Europe a log was replaced with a Christmas tree. Tradition of decorating it arrived to Split fairly recently, at the end of 19th century. On Christmas, faithful always attend a mass - again, with pandemic related difficulties - and then home for a holiday feast.
For kids, Christmas presents are the happiest moment of the holiday. In Dalmatia, and more or less whole Croatia, this is actually the third act of present giving, after Saint Nicholas Day and Saint Lucia Day. As always, gifts will be placed under the tree on Christmas Eve, and children who can wait till the next morning will find out were they nice this year. Of course, they all were. Among Croatian Catholics it's a tradition that gifts were brought by Baby Jesus, but in more secular families Santa Claus (there are different names in Croatia) took over.
Among new traditions it's worth of mentioning Christmas (and later also New Year's Day) picigin at Bačvice beach. Completely non-dependant on weather, the most dedicated players of this popular beach game will gather at Bačvice, where it was invented almost hundred years ago. They always celebrate holidays in their own way. Considering sea temperature, this is only for chosen. But, you can always watch, it's wide enough at Bačvice to avoid crowd. Unfortunately, it's hard to believe that in the age of distancing two other traditions will survive; klapa singing inside the Western gate of the Diocletian's Palace, and city-sponsored cod give away.
We wish you better, and happier times in the future, but Christmas is joy for itself.