Pitve's Midnight Christmas Mass is celebrated at 8.30 pm instead of midnight. This has its advantages for the very young and the elderly, who then get their normal quota of sleep and can celebrate Christmas Day feeling fresh and rested.
The 2014 Christmas celebrations in Pitve's main St. James' Church were threatened by the major works being undertaken on the access road to Gornje Pitve, the upper part of this two-part village. On Sunday December 21st, the road to the church was completely cut off by a deep trench, dug with the good purpose of burying the mains electricity cables. Mass was celebrated in the tiny chapel of St. Rocco in Donje Pitve, the lower part of the village. Fortunately it was a fine sunny day, so the many people standing outside did not suffer unduly. Mass was celebrated by Don ivica Babić, parish priest from Vrbanj. As the chapel is tiny, it was possible to follow the proceedings from outside and hear the sermon, even though the doors were closed.
The contractors promised that they would make the road to the main church accessible for Christmas, and they were true to their word. They laid the cables and covered over the trench in record time. Meanwhile, however, on Monday December 22nd a new danger loomed for Gornje Pitve residents. The contractors were heading for digging up the road right through the village, which would cut vehicle access off altogether, an isolation which would probably last until after Christmas. This called for emergency action, and Marinko Radonić rose valiantly to the task. He blocked the contractor's massive digger with his lorry and called the police, Jelsa's mayor and the town warden to inspect and intervene. Mayor Nikša Peronja was otherwise engaged, attending the annual meeting of the island's mayors with Bishop Slobodan Štambuk, so his deputy Ivo Grgičević stepped in to come to the rescue. All agreed that the village should not be cut off unnecessarily from access for the emergency services. The contractors undertook to leave the way open to one of the two off-road routes out of the village at all times. Pitve's traditional Christmas was saved.
At the start of the Christmas Midnight Mass, there is an empty cradle in front of the altar, and the altar candles, nativity scene and Christmas trees are all unlit. The first part of the liturgy consists of psalms and texts, mainly sung, with males and females singing alternate verses. As the church is well attended for this occasion, the singing is especially resonant, with Pitve's finest voices in full throttle. After the psalms comes the moment when a baby doll representing Jesus is placed in the crib, the candles on the altars are lit, the lights on the Christmas trees and nativity scene are switched on, and the church bells ring out.
As the candles are lit, the priest and altar-boys prepare for the mini-procession through the church in which the figure of the baby Jesus is symbolically presented to the congregation.
The second part of the service is a Mass with readings and Communion.
After the service, which lasts about two hours, people disperse fairly quickly, and Don Stanko proceeds to Jelsa to conduct the Midnight Mass in the main church of the parish, assisted by his deputy Don Jurica. It is a long night for the priests!
Christmas Day in Pitve is always joyful and gently festive. The church buzzes with goodwill, and the singing rings out loud and clear. A highlight of the Mass is the moment when the children light sparklers in honour of the Light which Jesus brought to the earth.
The 2014 Christmas Mass was enlivened by some specially sweet singing by the local children. They had been practising for some days under the guidance of Sandra Mileta, who accompanied them on the organ, and sisters Roza Radonić and Katarina Čadež. It was such a moving performance that the congregation burst into spontaneous applause, even though Communion was still being distributed. Having completed the Communion, Don Jurica congratulated the young singers and invited the congregation to give them an extra round of applause for good measure. Many said afterwards that the singing had made it the best Christmas Day Mass ever. See the video below, or on this link.
The music is the mainstay of religious celebrations in Dalmatia and the rest of Croatia, and long may this remain so. Music is one of the deepest roots of Dalmatian and Croatian culture. There are many fine Christmas carols which form the backdrop to this part of the year. One of the most sung is 'U sve vrime godišta', a favourite in innumerable arrangements, enjoyed by children and adults alike. A less welcome sound which has come to mark Christmas throughout Croatia is the explosion of firecrackers and fireworks. They do nothing but disturb the peace which should be a primary part of the celebrations, and every year children and adults are injured through faulty materials or mis-handling. Explosives are inappropriate for Christmas, all the more especially when there is so much violence and war damage in many parts of the world. Eco Hvar looks forward to a time when Christmas in Croatia will be celebrated using only its very real resources of peace and harmony.
After Christmas, on December 28th, Croatia's Presidential elections were held. Pitve's voters had to make a special effort to exercise their electoral rights, as the office which is used for the local voting station was almost completely cut off by the trench which had been dug for the electric cables.
The contractors had not thought, or had not been told to provide some kind of safe access. The supervisors in attendance for the voting told me they had done the best they could with some bricks they had found, but the result was far from safe or satisfactory. We can only hope that the situation will be rectified in time for the second round in the elections in a few weeks' time.
The digging progressed relentlessly, and Gornje Pitve's turn came on December 30th, just in time for the New Year. A large and powerful bulldozer-trencher cut a swathe down the village's only road.
The operation was completed with clinical efficiency, and a minimum of noise and dust. It left a neat scar the length of the road. There was one mishap when the digger cut through a water mains pipe which no-one knew about. To their credit, the Water Board arrived within five minutes, and managed to repair the damage within a couple of hours, sparing the village the discomfort of celebrating the New Year without running water.
The next part of the digging operation on January 3rd created a wider trench flanked by rubble on either side, cutting off access to the houses and fields on the north side of the road. The excavator proceeded with caution, and was supervised not only by one of the contractor's workers, but also local resident Marinko Radonić (Hero and Honorary Protector of Pitve), to avoid any repetition of hitting water pipes. Once the trench was completed, a board was placed over the gap, preserving a lifeline of communication across the village.
In between these two parts of the road works, the New Year was celebrated as always in Pitve, with peace and quiet. Those in search of excitement headed off to Hvar Town, Split or other parts of Croatia famous for their partying. New Year's Day is the feast of St. Mary, which is not a holy day of obligation for Croatian Catholics, although most of Pitve's villagers attend the celebratory Mass anyway. The culmination of the Christmas and New Year's festivities is on January 6th, the Epiphany (Bogojavljenje) in the Catholic calendar, or the feast of the Three Kings or Magi (Tri Kralja). In the first part of the Mass, the priest blesses a large bowl of water, and then blesses the congregation, sprinkling them with the now holy water. After the Mass, many of the congregation fill small containers with the blessed water to take home. January 6th is the last day when the Christmas decorations and image of the baby Jesus are visible in the church. The Christmas trees and Nativity scene are lit up, as are the candles on the main altar. As on Christmas Day, the Mass on January 6th 2015 was enhanced by the sweet singing of the newly-formed (informal) children's choir.
In Pitve, January 6th is the day that the priest visits the whole village, performing the little service of blessing the houses for all the residents who wish to host the ceremony. The village is always tidied up for the occasion. In January 2015, there was a lot of tidying to do, what with the stormy weather of the previous week and the road digging. For the house blessing, the altar boys accompany the priest. Pitve seems well supplied with youngsters willing to be altar boys at present, so it has not yet engaged girls to perform the tasks, as has happened in neighbouring Vrisnik. However, girls have sometimes accompanied the group for the Pitve house blessing, especially in years when there have been fewer altar boys.
The youngsters are always in a state of high excitement. They are given gifts of sweets or other delicacies, and it is the custom for householders to give a small gift of money both to them and to the priest, although this is not compulsory. Parish priest Don Stanko always conducts the blessing with calm and dignity, not an easy task when the youngsters around him are champing at the bit to enjoy their treats or make mischief!
© Vivian Grisogono 2014 - 2015