Folk customs and beliefs in Croatia

While earlier the deceased used to be buried mostly on the same day on which death occurred, today the current legislation mandate that at least 24 hours need to pass from the occurrence of death to the burial. This shows that in earlier times the people, being afraid of death, tried to get rid of the remains as soon as possible, their fear being accompanied by an entire series of unwritten rules they had to respect at the same time. The southern regions of Croatia are an exception, with the body being carried on foot to the cemetery the next day, and visiting the family of the deceased several hours following the loss of their member. They used to hold a wake the entire night by the deceased in accordance with the belief that he or she is not to be left alone in the dark. At the same time, it represented an opportunity for the neighbours and other villagers to say goodbye to the deceased and to remember his or her life together. Since such social events used to take place accompanied by food and drink, the atmosphere would often become very relaxed under the influence of wine or brandy, thus leading to anecdodes and funny joint adventures being told about the deceased. In such situations laughing was not considered inappropriate, since they believed that the deceased would leave this world more easily in a merry atmosphere. It is very important that as many people as possible visit his or her house. From this social obligation only pregnant women and small children were excluded.

Immediately after the person died, the household members used to wear mourning clothes and let the animals they had leave the house. After performing a ritual bath of the deceased, they would put him or her into formal clothes and would put new formal shoes or peasant shoes onto his or her feet, while the children and young peopl used to wear white clothes. The women would let down their hair and decorate it with flowers. Then they would place one of the hands over the other at the chest and put a rosary into the person's hands, covering most of his or her body with a white sheet. In Dalmatia, people used to commemorate this event by lighting a candle and closing the shutters on the door. They would hang a black scarf on the door of the home of the deceased which would remain there for a month, after which it would be removed, allowing the shutters to be opened again. Since people usually died at their homes, often when taking the body out of the house, they were careful not to carry it with its legs turned forward,this being accompanied by the spilling of filthy water, throwing of rocks or breaking of dishes after the body had passed by them carried by the villagers. While som of them used to place the casket on the threshold three times before leaving the house, in some parts of Croatia this was strictly forbidden in order for the deceased not to drag some other member of the family with him or her. For the same reason the back door of the house was used. Unlike the south of Croatia, in Slavonia all the windows and doors were opened after the body had been carried out of the house in order for the soul of the deceased not to remain entrapped in it. For the same reason all the dishes were turned upside down, as well as the chairs and benches. The broom which was used for sweeping the house was immediately thrown away, because it was considered unclean, the same as all the items which were in direct contact with the body, which was associated with some superstition, such as a cradle following the death of a small child. In order for the deceased not to drag domestic animals with him or her to death, in many regions in Croatia they would be sent away from their farms until the burial was over.

It is interesting that in specific villages, like the ones on the island of Hvar, children were forbidden to attend funerals, and in Konavle women were also forbidden to do that. In some villages in Slavonia girls used to follow the deceased to the cemetery singing, while their relatives used to kneel next to the door, praying and throwing rocks after the casket. All the ones who would encounter the funeral procession would also get to their knees. It was a common thing for the procession to be accompanied by the the church bells ringing. Throughout the centuries there were wailing women and girls who used to follow the casket with the deceased, weeping loudly, bidding a final farewell to the deceased and seeing him or her off to the other world. This custom was kept the most in Slavonia, where one could see four or six girls sitting on the casket, weeping. However, during the burial nobody's tears could fall onto the grave in order not to render the ground too heavy for him or her, that is, in order for something related to the living not to touch the deceased, which was considered a bad sign. Women in Dalmatia who did not bury a member of their family at the funeral used to send loud messages to their loved ones who had died, complain to them or ask them for some favour through the deceased. The resting places at which the procession used to stop two or more times on their way to the cemetery were marked by rocks, and it seems that this was done due to the belief that the soul of the deceased needs to take some rest. They had to know exactly where they would be passing due to the superstition according to which the deceased was forbidden to pass across the fields or herds. Pregnant women had to remain at home in order to prevent that something happens to their babies inside the womb. Namely, there was a deeply rooted belief that death brought infertility as well. On their way to the cemetery nobody was allowed to look back, with the explanation that otherwise someone else could die soon. Contrary to this, in some villages the children who were ill were taken out of their house hoping that their illness would be transmitted to the deceased.

As for the transport of the remains, they were carried in a closed wooden crate or on special carriers which would be destroyed after the burial. Their appearance and design depended on the social status of the deceased. Chariots and sledges in winter were also used for transport. In Slavonia, there remained the custom according to which only the married people were transported in a chariot, while all the ones who were not were carried. Girls often used to carry the girls who died. Of course, at times they would abandon the custom in cases in which there was a great distance between the house of the deceased and the cemetery, while special rules were applied in transporting and burial of children, both the baptised and the non-baptised ones. In some villages, they would symbolically take one wheel off the chariot for a day as a sign of grief, the right one for the men and the left one for the women.The ones who had taken their own lives were buried separately. All the tools used for the burial, as well as the earth were not allowed to be taken into the house because they were considered unclean. Those who would come to express their condolences to the family after the burial often had to shake the dirt off their shoes or take them off, while on rare occasions the earth from the burial site was considered protection against evil, and therefore a small amount of earth was placed into the house in order to protect the members of the household.

People have always worn black clothes for mourning the dead, and the time period during which they have done so has depended on the age of the deceased and the kinship. People used to mourn the longest the young ones (their husband or wife, child, sister, brother etc.) and in such cases the black clothes was worn for up to two years, and sometimes for the rest of one's life. Women used to be fully dressed in black, and on their head they would wear a black scarf, while men would wear some other black mark, such as a ribbon or a button.