Celebrating Croatian culture in Vancouver

The Croatian Cultural Centre will be holding their 2nd Annual Croatia Days Festival this year. According to Ante Pocrnic, Vice President of the United Croats of Canada, last year over 3000 people attended the festival and he expects the turnout to be even greater this year. This year the two-day event is being held from June 23–24.

Ante Pocrnic, vice-president of the United Croats of Canada. | Photo courtesy of Ante Pocrnic

Pocrnic says that the first festival was held in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the United Croats of Canada. The non-profit organization runs the Croatian Cultural Centre, which was established in 1986 by Croatian immigrants.

“We thought it would be a great opportunity to showcase our culture,” says Pocrnic.

Pocrnic, a first generation Croatian born and raised in Vancouver, says that many Croatians immigrated to Vancouver in the ’60s and ’70s due to political and economic reasons. These immigrants wanted to continue their Croatian cultural traditions in Vancouver and thus the Croatian Cultural Centre was founded in 1986.

“We want people to learn what Croatia is about, “says Pocrnic.

Food and folk dancing

This year’s festivities include a 3 vs. 3 soccer tournament, a marketplace, Croatian art displays, Croatian music and folk dancing. Vendors in the marketplace will be selling a variety of Croatian goods ranging from food to souvenirs. In addition, there will be an outdoor beer garden.

“We have a local Croatian winemaker in the Okanagan called Three Sisters who will be sampling wine,” says Pocrnic.

In terms of food, the festival will feature a few dishes such as sarma, a traditional Croatian style cabbage roll, and brudet, a typical Croatian style fish stew, as well as a variety of Croatian sweets such as traditional dry pastries called kifle cookies.

There will also be traditional Croatian folklore dancing by thecentre’s Croatian Nights Folklore Ensemble. The ensemble has over 100 dancers ranging from as young as 5 years old up to 50 years old. The ensemble’s president, Katarina Lulic, says that their choreographers are either from Croatia or have trained extensively there.

“It’s important to preserve the dance as much as possible and to keep it accurate,” says Lulic.

40th annual Canadian Croatian Folklore Federation-West Festival this past Victoria Day long weekend. Beginner group aged 5–7. | Photo courtesy of Ante Pocrnic

Lulic says that most Croatian dances are formed in a circle called a kolo, which involves a lot of partner work. The dancers may form lines or break off into groups but the main shape is a circle. Most dances are based on a story and the choreography varies from region to region. In the interior regions, dances are performed to the beat of the dancers’ feet, vocals and stomping are used in lieu of musical instruments. In the southern regions, the dances are much more upbeat and may feature lively music from a tamburica, an instrument similar to a banjo. The costumes also vary depending on how wealthy the region is. For example, wealthier regions may use silk for the costumes and their dancers will be adorned with more jewelry.

Born and raised in Vancouver to a Canadian mother and Croatian father, Lulic’s parents put her in Croatian dance classes when she was in kindergarten. Now 23 and a new graduate of Simon Fraser University, she’s still actively involved in Croatian dance.

“The friendships I made kept me involved,” says Lulic. “It’s a way to immerse yourself in the culture and I make friends who are Croatian and speak the language.”

Like Lulic, Pocrnic sees the value in continuing to build up Croatian culture in Vancouver. Pocrnic has high hopes for this year’s Croatia Days Festival.

“Year one was an extreme success,” says Pocrnic. “We want to continue building it in the community as a great brand where people can come and have a drink and really enjoy a day in Croatia.”

For more information, please visit www.croatiancentre.com.