Licitars - Gingerbread Craft from Croatia
Licitars (popularly known as licitar hearts in Croatian) are colorfully decorated biscuits made of sweet honey dough and painted in natural bright colors. The biscuits are part of Croatia's cultural heritage and a traditional symbol of Zagreb. In 2010, UNESCO added the Gingerbread craft from Northern Croatia to the "Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage" for Croatian culture.
The tradition of making and giving licitars stretches back to the 16th century. In the 18th and 19th century, in the towns of Zagreb, Karlovac, Koprivnica, Samobor, Varaždin and elsewhere, licitar makers, known as “medičari“, were reputable craftsmen, and their products favorite among members of all social classes. A young man giving a heart shaped licitars to his girlfriend to express his love and devotion to her is a custom deeply rooted in the Croatian traditional heritage.
Today licitars are used as an ornamental gift, often given at celebrations of love such as weddings and St. Valentine's Day. At Christmas time, the streets of Zagreb and the Christmas tree on the main square are decorated with hundreds of licitar hearts. Even today the tradition is kept alive by a selected few who covert the art in family secrecy and their methods of production have scarcely changed. Although it's made of simple ingredients, the production of licitars requires skill and speed. The gingerbread is shaped into moulds, baked, dried and painted with edible colours. Although the gingerbread heart is the most common motif, each craftsperson decorates gingerbread in a specific way, often with pictures, small mirrors and verses or messages.
If you want to find out more, we recommend this wonderful video that shows how Croatian heart-shaped licitars are made.