It is a tradition for family and friends to gather around the hearth. (Photo: Silvija Bionda/Voice of Croatia) It is a tradition for family and friends to gather around the hearth. (Photo: Silvija Bionda/Voice of Croatia)

Prela once were a social custom of gathering during cold winter nights. Days would come to an end at 4 PM and people needed to find activities to fulfill their time until 8 AM the following morning, especially since winter is a time when there is not much work to be found in the fields or around the house.

Nowadays, prela are seen as means for reviving and transposing old tradition and customs with the youngest of generations.

The Baranja Prelo at the Ethnology Center of Baranja’s Heritage in Beli Manastir provides exactly that, as well as an attractive way of sharing local customs with visiting tourists. For some time now, tourists have been searching for new ways to get acquainted with indigenous customs. They also look at spending time with their hosts in real life situations – away from the luxuries and familiarities of day-to-day modern life.

This is a different approach to tourism, which is still developing throughout Croatia, but Baranja has proven that it has taken a far leap in that direction.

Prelo in the past – the main mean of socialization during the winter

Many Prelo enthusiasts gathered in Beli Manastir, but also those curious to find out what the tradition entails. The Ethnology Center was crowded and the delighted faces among the visitor and participants spoke more than words.

Similar events are still organized throughout villages in Baranja, they are mostly intended for the locals as a means of gathering, but also for the preservation of this old tradition, something the participants say must not be forgotten. 

- I remember one of the Prelo in Gajić when I was a youngster, when I was more of a nuisance. I’d play, dig holes, or hang around those braiding corn leaves… Young brides, girls and elderly women would sew, knit, and bind the clothes for the youngest members in the community. They would exchange handicrafts; couples would meet under the moonlight, sing a bit, exchange looks, talk, these were the circumstances under which they would get to know each other before they would wed - says Eva Balatinac, member of the cultural artistic society Hrvatska Sloga from Gajić.     

The fact that Baranja didn't have electricity until the 1960's is another testament to the importance of Prelo in history, as winter nights were long and cold. Another custom was to bring well-known traditional Baranja cuisine, just as it was at this event. Old winter delicacies such as fresh and cured meats braised with cabbage and steamed dough dumplings, homemade cakes, wines from local wine cellars and more.

Baranjska okućnica

Baranja

12 Photograph

- We are the generation that went to the hearth to pick up the embers of our ancestors. We want to turn these embers to fire, maintain and further share it… to make sure knowledge about our old dishes, customs, way of life are shared through generations - reveals Ljubica Bošnjak from Branjin Vrh.

The First Baranja Prelo certainly isn't the last

Satisfaction after the first Prelo is something the head of the Baranja Tourist Board Matej Perkušić could not hide, stressing that the uniqueness of this event was the reflection of multiculturalism in the region. 

- In the eight months the Ethnology Center has been open to the public, over 5000 people had visited it. This is something we should have achieved within 5 years, according to the EU project. The center is open to all Baranja residents, through which we hope to place Baranja on the touristic map of Europe. Each year, our numbers project a 20% rise in overnight stays, proving that our future isn’t as bad as can be read - says Perkušić.

Considering what was seen at the Baranja Prelo – no longer are there winters, or better said thanks to the people of Baranja, each winter to come will bring good will.