Gingerbread craft from Northern Croatia
Heritage is a broad term which means something inherited from the past. Our heritage not only includes the monuments or places of historical importance but also the various forms of art or the intangible things that we inherit. The intangible cultural heritage is promoted by UNESCO for these “Human Treasures”.
At Go UNESCO we make learning about various heritages fun, so our next task is to perform a research on these intangible heritages. The ICH that I have been assigned is “The ginger bread art from northern Croatia”.
Gingerbread, a colourfully decorated confection traditionally produced in northern Croatia, usually in the shape of a heart. Gingerbread-makers also make mead and beeswax products.
UNESCO calls Croatian gingerbread makers “essential participants in local festivities, events and gatherings, providing the local people with a sense of identity and continuity.”
“The craft has been passed on from one generation to another for centuries, initially to men, but now to both men and women,” the U.N. group notes. “Gingerbread has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Croatian identity.”
Shaped Croatian gingerbread cookies — “licitarsko srce” which translates loosely as “licitar hearts” – are baked and dried before being painted with colored frostings and decorated. The country’s ubiquitous “Licitari” with heart motifs are popular as Valentine’s Day gifts and wedding favours. The small confections even inspired a ballet – “Licitarsko Scre” or “Gingerbread Hearts” – by Croatian composer Kresimir Baranovic.
The story of licitar hearts dates back to the medieval times when gingerbread craft was born in Europe. The exact recipe of licitar hearts is a well kept secret but the common ingredients are still known, it’s still obvious that there is a difference in quality and durability.
Sold at parish fairs at first and traditionally related to church festivals, licitars were mainly religious ornaments. In time, however, licitar makers introduced public to more different shapes and motives, especially licitar hearts. Smaller ones are used as ornaments even today, but a larger licitar heart has a strong tradition in Croatian folklore. A young man gives licitar heart to the girl he loves as a symbol of his affection and love and then waits for the girl to confirm his hopes. This gesture means he says his heart belongs to her. Such licitars always have a tiny mirror as a decor. The true purpose of that mirror is that the girl in question must use it to look into it and see the reflection of that man’ true sweetheart. If she looks and sees her own reflection, she’s the one.