Christmas decorations are not elaborate on Hvar Island. There is no rivalry between the towns and villages for the most original or flamboyant displays. In the main, the same decorations are used year after year. The Christmas lights in the towns are mainly permanent fixtures, unobtrusive through most of the year until the moment comes for them to be switched on. Jelsa's Christmas tree is similarly thrifty, an enormous plastic construction which is brought out from its hibernation annually to be placed in its surprisingly small mount, which for the rest of the year is hidden under an ordinary paving stone.
This year the Christmas tree was unveiled on Thursday December 11th. I have never worked out what logic dictates the date of its appearance. As usual, on the appointed day the paving stone was removed to reveal the mount in readiness for the impending arrival.
The tree was borne into Jelsa's Pjaca in majestic grandeur on the back of a lorry, and was expertly hoisted off by a large crane.
It is the responsibility of the company Jelsa Plus d.o.o., which is also in charge of the car park and other facilities in the Jelsa Council area, under the able guidance of Director Niko Salamunić. The Jelsa Plus team has plenty of experience in placing the tree securely and making sure it stands up straight.
The final touch requires work on the crown of the tree, putting the star into place. Once wired up, the tree is ready for action. Jelsa Plus' electrician Antonio Reljanović clambered nimbly up the ladder to complete the task. The whole installation took just twenty-two minutes from the time the transport lorry rounded the corner in front of the Town Hall, a great example of efficient teamwork, born of long experience.
The tree and the Christmas lights adorning Jelsa central buildings may be modest by comparison with other places, but they form a perfect background for Christmas fun. On Sunday 14th December, Jelsa's Udruga Karnevol (Carnival Association, a registered Charity), famed for providing excellent family entertainment in Jelsa not only at Carnival time in the spring, but at all times of the year, put on a special party for the children, with traditional refreshments, entertainments, music and dancing.
The weather was perfect, a calm, mild evening at the end of a warm sunny day.
Guests of honour for the occasion were Jelsa's handball team, who are currently top of the Croatian National Second League (South region). Jelsa's mayor Nikša Peronja (pictured above in the dark duffle coat) presented the players with a magnificent cake - presumably to give them energy for their further endeavours.
There was also a prize draw, won by Katarina Lučić-Lavčević, seen here holding her son Roko while receiving her prize from Danijela Tomić and Dražen Sarjanović. It can fairly be said that a good time was had by all, and the evening was a perfect joyful preparation for the Christmas celebrations.
On Saturday December 20th, the Udruga Karnevol organized another Christmas treat, this time a children's party in the early evening, with plenty on offer for the grown-ups as well. There was plentiful aromatic mulled wine - not that the evening was cold, but it was still welcome for all that. There were stalls selling Christmas gifts and decorations, as well as some of Dalmatia's wonderful traditional Christmas sweets and cakes.
The Udruga Karnevol comprises only about ten members, who are totally committed to providing 'cultural entertainment', especially for the young in the local community. There is strong teamwork in the group and among the families of the group's members.
The Bunčuga family features strongly, especially on the food and drinks side. The Zagorac family leads the way with music and a very professional sound system, under the control of father Žare with his younger son Luka, while Žare's wife Andrea and their daughter Marija organize the children's dancing, which is a special source of enjoyment for all concerned.
The children also participated in Christmas-themed recitals, performing with charm, diffidence and confidence in balanced measure.
Such public recitals do wonders for children's ability to communicate to an audience, and for their self-confidence. The teamwork involved also establishes trust and friendships which usually last for years. Experiences such as these apparently simple Christmas festivities stand these youngsters in good stead. The goodwill generated is beyond price. We at Eco Hvar congratulate the selfless and tireless organizers of these events and all those who work with them. We wish them continuing success in 2015.
It is not customary to wish people "Happy Christmas" before Christmas Day in Dalmatia, although some people now do. The traditional greeting on Christmas Eve in Jelsa is "Na dobro Vam došao Bodnji don" during the day, or "Na dobro Vam došla Badnja veče" in the evening. Throughout Croatia, local councils provide a traditional Christmas Eve feast of bakalar, salt cod served as a stew. This is a custom which has arisen since Croatia became independent and religious customs like Christmas were once again celebrated freely after the long years of Communist discouragement. Jelsa Council takes on the role willingly every year. As the weather is generally mild, the cafes are jam-packed with guests of all ages for the occasion.
The bakalar is served in large quantities in the late morning, so people gather for coffee, beers or stronger aperitifs, moving on to the bakalar, which for some is lunch, for others a kind of brunch.
The bakalar is served piping hot, which makes it a filling dish.
One stand holds the vats of bakalar, a second provides the bread, napkins and utensils. Even in the busiest moments, the speciality is served up with good humour by the super-efficient young team, suitably attired in festive garb.
There are also four-legged friends among the guests, which is always pleasant for those of us who like to have animals around. One very calm little terrier was in the company of Vrisnik's favourite adopted son, Belgian Norbert Bossaert. Unfortunately, a lot of dogs are petrified - quite rightly and reasonably - by the firecrackers which youngsters throw around with careless abandon at this time of year, so many dog-owners have to keep their pets shut at home to avoid panic. There is talk of a change in the law to limit the sale and use of these 'mini-bombs' as one friend describes them, and that would be most welcome.
A couple of well-socialized dogs who were allowed to roam free took advantage of the thinning crowds to have a boisterous game in the middle of the square by the Christmas tree.
Somewhere between 1 and 2 pm, the cafes empty out, as people drift off home. Most will rest in preparation for the marathon midnight mass, which in Jelsa usually starts just before midnight and goes on until after 1 am. That marks the arrival of Christmas, when people can officially say "Sretan Božić".
Sadly, in the days following Christmas there was some fierce windy weather, and the ferocious bura (northerly wind) brought down electricity lines and tore through Jelsa's Christmas tree after many years' service. On New Year's Eve the tree was a sorry-looking sight. However, it had done its bit for 2014. New Year's Eve, St. Sylvester's Day, is celebrated with the same wild elation in Croatia as elsewhere in the world. Some places, including Hvar Town, Split, Rijeka and Dubrovnik as well as the capital Zagreb of course, are famous for having great music and wonderful festive gatherings to welcome each New Year. In Jelsa the celebrations are more low-key, but nonetheless merry. On Hvar the greeting exchanged on New Year's Eve is: "Na dobro Vam došla svarha godišća", which translates roughly as "May the peak of the year be good for you".
At lunchtime on December 31st 2014 the Udruga Karnevol was in action again, organizing a splendid lunch with mulled wine and excellent live music entertainment. Local hunters provided a wild boar which formed the main part of the meal, followed by homemade seasonal sweets.
The food was devoured by a succession of guests, who certainly did it justice. Only the succulent smell was left to tell the tale of how delicious it had been.
Stipe Božiković, an extremely talented young musician, led the music on the accordion, and the singing proceeded happily well into the afternoon.
Many of the revellers then headed off to the New Year's Eve Mass at 5pm, in preparation for the later round of celebrations culminating at midnight. The normal Hvar greeting on New Year's Day is "Na dobro Vam došlo mlado lito" ("May the young year be good for you", or "May the young year bring you good things"), although "Sretna Nova godina" ("Happy New Year") is also used, especially for outsiders.
The lunch was held with the charitable aim of raising money for Hvar's Red Cross, an organization which quietly does an enormous amount for all the residents on the island. The event was yet another feather in the cap of the Udruga Karnevol.
© Vivian Grisogono 2014