If Croatia steals your heart away, take Croatia’s heart with you.
As soon as you step into Zagreb, you can hardly miss the bright red hearts adorning almost every corner of this trending central-European city. From the central square and the bustling Dolac Market, to small corner shops and family-held pastry shops, the Licitar heart speaks volumes of carefully kept traditions and kind, generous hearts of Croatian people.
If you have heard of Licitar, but you never had the opportunity to learn more about it, read on to find out:
- What licitar is,
- how it is made,
- how you should use it,
- and where you can purchase it.
What is Licitar?
Licitar is a colourfully decorated biscuit made of sweet honey dough. It comes in numerous forms and intricate designs, such as horses, cherries and birds, but most often in the shape of a heart.
Licitar is one of the most recognizable symbols of Croatia. In fact, this gingerbread craft is protected as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, one of 14 astounding cultural treasures Croatia has on that list.
The tradition of Licitar craftsmanship originates from the Middle Ages. The tradition spread from the Eastern Alps region into Central European countries, eventually finding its way to Croatia. The people of Zagreb and Hrvatsko Zagorje not only embraced the craft, but gave it their own local flare and turned it into a unique Croatian symbol of love, devotion and national legacy.
How to make Licitar?
Licitar makers are known as Medičari. They used to enjoy a high position in society and jealously kept the secrets of Licitar making. The art was regarded as a family secret and passed on from one generation to another. Even today – centuries after the craft was customized by Zagorje craftsmen – only a selected few make the original licitars, using the same methods.
The process of making licitar can last up to a month. Although the recipes and the preparation are simple, the procedure still entails a lot of patience.
It takes a few days for the dough to mature before it is moulded into a desired shape and baked. It is necessary to wait two weeks for the baked biscuits to dry before they can be dyed in their trademark red colour, and then another two weeks for the colour to dry. The final step is to decorate the licitars, often with pictures, tiny mirrors and kind messages.
Each ingredient is organic and edible – but after a month of drying it is too firm for eating. So be careful not to break your teeth!
What should I do with licitar?
Ever since the inception of the tradition up until today medičari have been among essential contributors of local festivities and gatherings, in particular “proštenja” – Sunday fairs held next to churches on church holidays. The picturesque stalls adorn in red licitars are an especially captivating site to see.
Small licitars have for centuries been used as Christmas tree decorations in the homes of Croatian families. But most commonly they are given as a gift to loved ones at special occasions.
Young men would give licitar hearts to young women they admired, thus professing their love and devotion, most commonly on Valentine’s Day. And isn’t that a perfect symbol of love? A bouquet of roses will wither and die, but the heart-shaped licitar lasts forever.
Today licitars are a popular Croatian souvenir travelers take home with them to remember their extraordinary time in Croatia. They can serve as decoration or symbols of love.
I want my licitar souvenir! Where can I find it?
The original licitar making craft is carefully preserved by Licitar, a design studio for manufacturing of decorations and souvenirs. For the past 15 years they have meticulously been working to create these symbols of Croatia the same way it has been done for centuries. Their mission is to preserve the tradition of making Croatian handcrafted artefacts and turn them into a recognizable symbol of Croatia. So far they have done a magnificent job.
Not only can you find their heart-shaped souvenirs in major cities such as Zagreb, Dubrovnik and Split, but you can also purchase them online. In that way they are only a click away if you are yearning for a dash of authentic Croatian culture.
Their licitars come complete with brief educational descriptions of the history and the meaning this gingerbread art has, ensuring that a person you give licitars to fully appreciate the love and significance standing behind the kind gesture.
You will hardly find a more lovable symbol of Croatia than these picturesque red hearts. Each licitar represents a tiny piece of loving Croatian heart, so make sure to keep it safe and sound!
Author: Petra Škofić
Photo Credit: (1) Petra Bosnar, (2, 4 & 5) Licitar.hr, (3) Vanja Gavrić
Do you own a licitar?
Who would you give a licitar to?