Photo: TZ Grad Zagreb, D. Rostuhar

ZAGREB ADVENT

Let the magic begin

Although the tradition of holding Christmas markets is much longer in the Germanic world of Northern Europe, and the Zagreb Advent does not have a long history, it has quickly, in just a few years, become a big event that brings tourists from far corners of the world to Zagreb in the middle of winter. For three years in a row – in 2017, 2018 and 2019 – the Zagreb Advent has been voted the best in Europe. This year it might have won once again, but for the organiser’s rule that the same city can’t be the best for four years in a row.

In 2019, Advent in Zagreb got 14,000 votes more than the French runner-up, Colmar, in the European Best Destination selection, in which voters from one hundred and thirty-one countries participated.

“I heard on a TV quiz in Stockholm that the Zagreb Advent is the best in Europe, that here everything is so… magical and fragrant. That’s exactly what they said, ‘magical and fragrant’. And, really, the aroma of food is everywhere. My colleagues at work also talked about Zagreb in winter. Before, I was convinced that a city that is geographically closer to me would bear the title of the best advent market,” says Evelina Östlund, a lawyer from Stockholm, Sweden. “I find it intriguing that Zagreb has created this winter fairy tale in such a short time and with such success. There’s no snow, but everything else is here. Although, there’s no real winter either; but the atmosphere is excellent nonetheless. I love Christmas markets, but I’ve never visited one wearing short sleeves before. In Zagreb, this is also possible!” says Östlund, gesturing and pointing at her bare forearms protruding from her down vest. In a good mood, she improvises some dance steps as she walks under the starry sky, which, during the Advent, is created in one of the smaller streets in the city centre. It is possible, admittedly, to walk in short sleeves during Advent in Zagreb, but it is decidedly not common. Last December, there were days when the temperature climbed to seventeen degrees Celsius; it seems that the global warming has replaced Christmas with Easter. In a survey by Big 7 Travel, Zagreb was voted the third best Christmas market among fifty cities that entered the finals, with 1.5 million people voting.

In 2019, Advent in Zagreb got 14,000 votes more than the French runner-up, Colmar, in the European Best Destination selection, in which voters from one hundred and thirty-one countries participated.

Its visitors mostly emphasise the varied and exciting things on offer, and when they go home, they remember being entertained, or even, as one of them told us – “forgotten”. “Forgotten, that’s right, because I’ve only been here a day and a half, and I managed to completely switch off from my work and other commitments I left in Milan,” says Carlo Pinto, an architect, with a large portion of štrukli (a type of cheese strudel) on the table in front of him. “I think I should be entitled to seconds because we climbed the Sljeme today,” he says laughing. A group of Italian visitors, all talking at the same time, explain about having visited the Medvednica mountain, at the foot of whose slopes Zagreb spreads. They are keen skiers and wanted to know where exactly the Snow Queen Trophy – a slalom race held on the Medvednica every year in early January –takes place and what its track looks like. Advent in Zagreb begins when the first candle is lit on the Advent Wreath that encircles the Manduševac Fountain, situated in the main town square, which the Zagrebians call Jelačić Plac. In the same square, not far from the Fountain, there is a huge Christmas tree, in front of which the locals meet to go for a cup of tea or a glass of mulled wine. The spirit of Advent is spreading, sprinkled like sugar on a cake, all over the Lower and Upper Town.

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