Today is Victoria Day for us Canucks; the day we celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday. No, Victoria is no longer queen and hasn’t been for some time, but that’s just what we call it here in Canada. I did a little research prior to writing this – because I’m a nerd like that – and in the UK, Victoria Day is called Empire Day and in the past, this holiday use to fall on the sovereign’s actual birthday. Today, it’s celebrated on the last Monday before May 25th – hence the unofficial name of this kick off to the summer season, May 2-4 weekend.
Funnily enough, this is the weekend that Croatian-Canadians attend the Croatian Folklore Festival. So instead of waving little Canadian flags, paying tribute to the queen and doing Canadian things like barbecuing hamburgers and hotdogs, we wave gigantic Croatian flags, hang them outside our hotel windows, dress up in traditional costumes, pay tribute to Croatian culture by dancing and singing and then do what Croatian people do best, party. Kind of ironic isn’t it?
So to Canadian-Croatians this weekend is Festival weekend and it’s the highlight of the year. Picture this, you’re 16 to 21 years old. You’ve been attending weekly dance and tambura practices(Croatian mandolin), mastering the drmeš (der-mesh, which literally means to shake), a circle dance that looks easy enough, but if you’ve ever been to a Croatian wedding and tried joining in thinking, “This looks fun! It can’t be that hard!” You quickly realize that even though you’re moving your feet as fast as you can, you still can’t keep up with the intricate footwork. It’s ok. We won’t hold it against you; the drmeš is a lot harder than it looks!
Anyway, as I was saying, you worked hard all year. You performed for the Christmas concert, danced for mom on mother’s day and sang a tune for Baka and Deda at the annual spring concert. Then May 2-4 rolls around and you can hardly contain yourself. It’s the Friday of the long weekend and you and your friends drive to the host city, along with 20 other groups from all over Ontario and the U.S. Check in to your hotel, throw on a cute outfit and call a cab to take you to the dance. You show up at the venue, which on Friday nights is usually the church basement.
Hearing the band pumping gets you and your friends even more excited as you pull in, so you give your uncle Drago – who’s selling the tickets at the door – a double-cheek kiss and start singing the song the band is playing with your friends as you enter the hall. Once in, you eye the band and yes, it’s them, your favourite Croatian polka band!There’s about two dozen or so people already dancing the two-step out there, so you grab your friend and drag her to the dance floor because it’s your favourite song. The song ends and now it’s time for a drink. You double-cheek kiss no less than 36 people as you make your way to the bar, asking them how their drive from Mississauga, Hamilton, London, Windsor, Montreal, Chicago, etc., etc. was. Finally, you’re at the bar, you and your friends take a shot and the next thing you know you’re back at your hotel room and your mom’s calling your room yelling at you why you’re not at the performance yet.
While the above scenario is what every Croatian who grew up in the folklore groups looks forward to festival for, it’s the following scenario that makes it all possible. Without it there would be no dances, no priceless memories and nothing to keep all these wonderful traditions alive and thriving.
So after your mom finishes reaming you out for not being ready yet, you splash some cold water on your face, throw on a pair of sweat pants and a T-shirt that has something to do with Croatia, grab your nošnja (no-sh-nya) – your costume – and make your way over to the theatre. There, you find your group and dressing room, run into another half-a-dozen people you have to double-cheek kiss and start getting ready. This consists of finding a mom to french braid your hair (one braid or two, depending on the dance), putting on a upteen amount of heavy, moth ball scented layers that consist of your costume, lots of performance make up and funny looking shoes that range from moccassin-ish, to ankle boots, to ballet flats, to slippers.
Once ready, and if you’re lucky enough to perform before the intermission, you practice the dance a couple of times. Your teacher yells at you saying that you better not mess up and as the organizers call you out to the stage she tells you you’re the best group there is and you all will be great. On stage, you’re in your element. You sing your heart out, your feet tap, tap, tap to the rhythm of the tamburica (tum-boo-ri-tza). You spin and twirl, drmeš, buzz and double buzz. Your head-piece flies off, another girl’s necklace breaks and your partner keeps forgetting his steps. But through it all, the crowd is clapping and singing along. Someone in the crowd hollers out the name of your group and you and every other member is smiling your big performance smiles.
The number ends, the group lines up to face the crowd, standing side by side and one of the guys in your group stomps his foot to signal the bow. As you bow, you spot your mom and dad clapping proudly. Baka wiping tears from her eyes and Deda nodding his approval. You exit the stage feeling great because you just put on a great show and you know there are two more dances that weekend to look forward to!
I know this posting is a a lot longer than usual, but rightly so. I have only skimmed the surface of what festival weekend is to Croatian-Canadian kids. Yes, the dances are a blast and it’s great to meet new people and be in a different city for the weekend. However, I don’t think you will find one person who doesn’t feel the pride and significance of keeping these traditions alive so far from home. It’s through folklore where we learn the importance of our culture, recognize the value of knowing where you come from and preserving the language, music and traditions that are unique to our heritage. Every year I think I’m getting too old for the crowd, but every year I come back, glad I did.
I want to congratulate this year’s host group, Bl. Kardinal A. Stepinac Windsor for a fantastic festival. I have never been prouder of my hometown and my former group. Svaka čast! (This is a video from the last time Windsor hosted festival. Browse around the Canadia-Croatian Folklore Federation Website to check out pictures and information on each group).
Now for the recipe, since we’re on the Croatian theme, I thought we needed a Croatian recipe. Kroštule (kr-o-sh-too-le, or angel wings) is a dessert from Dalmatia that is crisp, not too sweet and light as air. It’s a perfect recipe to prepare if you don’t have much time and it’s one of those recipes that even if you have nothing in your pantry you will have the ingredients to prepare this.
No special tools are required for this, except for a rolling-pin and a ridged ravioli cutter (of course you can just use a knife, but the ridges make the final product look much prettier). If you have a pasta maker you can use it to roll out your dough as thin as possible. The dough is very much like pasta dough, firm and dry, and can take a lot of elbow grease to roll out thinly. Plus, the thinner the dough, the more crisp your Kroštule will be and the more they will curl as they fry. This is also a dessert that does not have to be served hot or cold and can be packed up easily to take anywhere, like in the car, or at the hotel for Festival weekend.
Makes 20 to 25 Kroštule
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons rum
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 package vanilla sugar
2 tablespoons icing sugar
In a bowl add the flour and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg yolks, sugar, rum and sour cream. Make a well in the flour and pour in the egg mixture. Combine into a firm, dry dough. On a lightly floured surface, knead until smooth and let rest for half an hour.
Roll out using a rolling-pin, or pasta maker. If using a pasta maker, cut the dough into 4 equal pieces, flatten using your hands and feed through the pasta maker, starting with the largest setting, working your way down to the second or third narrowest setting. Repeat with the other pieces of dough.
Once the dough is rolled out, heat the oil and begin cutting the dough, using the ravioli cutter. Cut the strips to about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch. You can leave the strips as is, or tie them in a loose knot. If very thin, the strips will curl when you fry them. Test the oil by dropping in a small piece of dough. If the oil bubbles quickly it is ready. Fry the dough in batches of five or six, depending on the size of your pan. When brown on both sides, remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. When you have fried all of the dough, sprinkle all sides with the mixture of icing and vanilla sugar and enjoy!