Eco Friendly Children’s Wooden Toys In Hrvatsko Zagorje Croatia

Strengthening the Family Bonds through the Traditional Manufacturing of Eco-Friendly Children’s Wooden Toys in Hrvatsko Zagorje, Croatia

Eco Friendly Children’s Wooden Toys In Hrvatsko Zagorje Croatia

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The heart-warming tradition of manufacturing children’s wooden toys in Hrvatsko Zagorje, Croatia dates back to the 19th century.

However, it wasn’t before 2009 that the beautiful craft was officially inscribed by UNESCO as a part of the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The tradition was gradually developed through the participation of more than several generations who have been engaged in the process of crafting the eco-friendly children’s wooden toys.

What’s more, the tradition has served as a means of strengthening the family bonds because of the way both men and women are involved in the manufacturing process.

Varying in shape, size, and decoration, the handcrafted wooden toys are unique.

Even though there are particular repetitive patterns and models, no two toys can ever be exactly alike. This not only adds to the beauty and value of the charming toys but it also makes room for celebrating one of the biggest treasures the human mind possesses – imagination.

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere – Albert Einstein.

Getting to Know More about Croatia: The Home Country of the Traditional Children’s Wooden Toys of Hrvatsko Zagorje

Croatia The Home Country Of The Traditional Children’s Wooden Toys Of Hrvatsko Zagorje

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The official name of Croatia is Republic of Croatia.

The country is shaped like a horseshoe and covers a territory of 56,594 square kilometers of land, as well as coastal waters (including inland and territorial waters) of 31,067 square kilometers.

Located on the north western edge of the Balkan Peninsula in Southern Europe, the Republic of Croatia has been a part of the European Union ever since 2013.

Neighboring with Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Monte Negro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia has a long and rich history.

Founded in 925 by King Tomislav, Croatia has been influenced by many different cultures because of its favorable geographical position.

With a population of 4 154 200 people based on the census from 2017, Croatia is the third richest country in Europe. But it isn’t rich only from a materialistic point of view. The well-preserved ecological environment is home to hundreds of endemic species of both animals and plants.

The Otter Lutra Lutra One Of The Protected Animal Species In Croatia

The Otter (Lutra Lutra) – one of the protected animal species in Croatia – Image Source

In fact, 10% of Croatia is protected, and there are 8 national parks, 2 national reserves, and 11 nature parks.

Video by 4K Relaxation Channel – 4K Drone Footage – Bird’s Eye View of Croatia, Europe – 3 Hour Ambient Drone Film


How did the Manufacturing of Children’s Wooden Toys Turn into a Tradition?

How Did The Manufacturing Of Children’s Wooden Toys Turn Into A Tradition

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The roots of the unique Croatian tradition of crafting wooden toys for children dates back to the 19th century.

At the very beginning, there were three regions in Croatia where the wooden toys were produced.

These three regions consisted of multiple small villages, namely the villages near the capital of Croatia – Zagreb, such as the village of Vidovec, villages in Hrvatsko Zagorje, and the village of Zelovo located in inland Dalmatia near Sinj.

While the tradition of manufacturing children’s wooden toys started to develop in all of the three regions listed above, it was continued only by the people who inhabit the villages in Hrvatsko Zagorje.

The artisans of the nearby villages of Zelovo and Vidovec gradually stopped being engaged in the craft due to various factors that were shaping the history of the country back in the 19th century.

Video by Geography Now – Geography Now! Croatia


One extremely important factor that greatly encouraged the people in the Hrvatsko Zagorje region to keep the tradition alive was the pilgrimage route to the Marian Shrine.

The routeis locatedright along the villages where wooden toys are manufactured,providing the local people with the opportunity to sell their carefully crafted toys to the travelers. Known as the Croatian Camino, the route to the Shrine of Saint Mary of Marija Bistrica is the most famous Croatian shrine.

Nowadays, the beautiful handicraft is proudly present in villages around Marija Bistrica and Stubica. Some of these villages include Laz, Laz Stubički, Laz Bistrički, and Tugonica.

The local people in these picturesque villages have continued to produce wooden toys without ever interrupting the tradition.

Always starting from scratch and practiced by self-taught local artisans, the handcrafted toys bring a second life to trees and smiles on the faces of the children who get to play with them. But what’s more these toys also help the humble inhabitants of the villages in Hrvatsko Zagorje to make a living by practicing a craft that they love deeply and sincerely.

Toys Also Help The Humble Inhabitants Of The Villages In Hrvatsko Zagorje

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The villages are situated on the northeast slopes of mountains Medvednica, as well as the Krapina valley. Being close to the pilgrims’ route to Marian shrine of Marija Bistrica, it is right there on the route where most of the toys are sold.

Video by Srećko VukovMedvednica. Šumska čarolija


The Different Steps of Crafting Traditional Children’s Wooden Toys in Hrvatsko Zagorje

Steps Of Crafting Traditional Children’s Wooden Toys In Hrvatsko Zagorje

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In addition to being an ecologically viable and ecologically friendly craft, the production of children’s wooden toys in Croatia has kept the family values and relationships closely knit together throughout the course of history.

The manufacturing process is divided between the men and the women, and it is typically family craftsmanship meaning that the toys are crafted by husbands and their wives.

The first step of the process is usually handled by men.

They need to obtain suitable types of timber materials from the region. For woodworking purposes, the local artisans have found that soft willow, lime, maple, and beech wood work best.

Once selected, the wood material has to be carefully dried and hewed before being cut to a suitable shape depending on the type of toy that is about to be crafted later on. The artisans use wooden or cardboard models when cutting the timber.

Wood Material Has To Be Carefully Dried And Hewed

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The next step is to keep shaping the wood with the use of traditional tools such as knives, a “štruk,” and a plane. Nowadays, some of the artisans are also implementing modern-day cutting tools such as electric saws because this helps to achieve the desired shape much faster.

As soon as the toys are cut and shaped into a specific design, women get down to decorating the joyful handcrafted masterpieces.

For coloring the toys, only eco-friendly paint that is safe for children is used. Traditionally, the toys are decorated in bright, vivid colors through the application of multi-colored stripes.

Some of the commonly used colors for the base of the wooden toys include red, blue, yellow, orange, green, black, and white.

For further beautifying the wooden toys, women continue to carefully decorate the colored base by painting various motives inspired by nature. None of these motives follows any strict regulations. It is the imagination, the current mood, and emotions that guide the women into creating cheerful ornamentations.

Women Continue To Carefully Decorate The Colored Base

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But despite the large room for improvising, the decorations are traditionally following floral and geometrical patterns.

Looking into the Diversity of Models of Traditional Croatian Handcrafted Wooden Toys

Looking Into The Diversity Of Models Of Traditional Croatian Handcrafted Wooden Toys

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There were times when the local artisans crafted more than 120 different models of toys. Nowadays, the craftsman has limited the number to approximately fifty models of toys.

Some of the earliest models of Croatian wooden toys that are still being produced up-to-date are one pipe whistles and two pipe whistles. The one pipe whistles are known as “jedinke” while the two pipe whistles are known as “dvojinice.”

One Pipe Whistles And Two Pipe Whistles

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The reeds called “žveglice” used to be the most popular model, and that’s why the artisans engaged in the process of crafting these toys were often referred to as “žveglači.” There were several master craftsmen like Dragutin Kunić, Dragutin Gereci and Stjepan Mikuš who were widely re-known as manufacturers of wooden reeds žveglice in the village Laz.

Wooden Reeds Žveglice

The traditional Croatian double flute that is re-created into children’s wooden toys models – Image Source  

However, these gifted artisans have passed away, and their workshops were left without heirs, as highlighted in UNESCO’s report on Project Craftattract and the 10th years of ICH Convention, following up the inscription of the traditional craft on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.

Fortunately, UNESCO’s inscription, as well as the special safeguarding programmes have helped greatly in protecting and transmuting the traditional craft for the next generations.

The range of toy models has expanded over time as a means of keeping the attention of the children of the new century. Thus, various modern-day toy models such as cars, airplanes, and trains have emerged.

Cars Airplanes And Trains

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But the fact that new toy models are emerging does not mean that the traditional models have been faced with oblivion.

Instead, some of the most popular and highly demanded models of Croatian wooden toys are butterfly or bird clappers.

Croatian Wooden Toys Butterfly Or Bird Clappers

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These are moved with the use of wheels and/ or by holding the installed stick which connects the toy’s simple mechanism to the movements made by the children holding the stick, resulting in “clapping” of the wings of the butterfly/bird toys. These models are locally known as “klepetaljka.”

Another famous model of wooden toys is the jumping horse.

Wooden Toys Jumping Horse

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Additionally, toy models of roosters, fish, and hammers are also quite popular. But apart from the animal-shaped toys, musical instrument-shaped toys are among the most treasured models. These include violoncello, tamburitza, and trumpet-shaped wooden toys.

What’s intriguing about the making process of the musical instrument-shaped wooden toys is that even though tiny in size, the final product possesses all the properties of the real musical instrument.

For this purpose, the talented toy makers go through all the stages of traditional musical instruments tuning.

Traditional Musical Instruments Tuning

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Tiny-sized furniture is also among the most beloved and popular models of wooden toys that children and grown-ups alike simply adore.

Tiny Sized Furniture

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The Future of the Traditional Handicraft of Hrvatsko Zagorje

Future Of The Traditional Handicraft Of Hrvatsko Zagorje

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The traditional crafting of wooden toys in Hrvatsko Zagorje has gone through a revival thanks to UNESCO’s recognition in 2009. This was an important step in acknowledging the skills and the will of the local artisans who kept the tradition alive for centuries.

They did so by constantly introducing new models but they also stayed true to the manufacturing of models that are highly identical to the models created more than a hundred years back in time.

Nevertheless, the placement of toys in specialized shops, on special events, as well as on parish fairs, is also very important for preserving the Croatian craft that has brought joy to many generations.

And in order to keep bringing joy to the children in the future centuries, the Craftatract project is encouraging different activities that promote the ancient craft such as seminars, school meetings, workshops, and exhibitions.

In 2013, Croatian wooden toys makers were extremely proud and happy to present their folk artwork at foreign fairs in Beograd and Bratislava.

The Old Village Museum in Kumrovec, the Peasant Uprising Museum in Gornja Stubica, and the Ethnographic Museum in Zagreb are some of the museums that are engaged in preserving the traditional toy making craft of Croatia.

As agreed with kindergartens, we visit children’s groups in order to familiarise them with how wooden toys are made”, shares Pavica Mlinarić, who is a highly skilled professionalist in making traditional wooden toys, in an interview for Zagreb Crafts.

Our toys take the older generation back to their childhood days, while the younger ones are blown away by the fact that they get to keep the wooden toy after they’re done decorating it and they’re particularly fond of ponies, butterflies, ride-on toys and wooden flutes,” further explains Pavica Mlinarić when commenting on the way children react to and interact with the toys.  

Video by UNESCO – Traditional manufacturing of children’s wooden toys in Hrvatsko Zagorje


Final Food for Thought

Final Food For Thought 7

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Born from the big hearts and decorated with the big dreams for joy and happiness of the local artisans, the traditional manufacturing of children’s wooden toys in Hrvatsko Zagorje tells immortal tales born in the most sacred corners of the imagination and the collective psyche of the Croatian nation.


They were surprised that I still know Croatian though now so many years absent from my native land. — How is it that you didn’t forget?

— How could I? Though I don’t converse in Croatian, yet I dream in Croatian, — and I dream very often …

FRAN MAŽURANIĆ(1859 –1928)

Strengthening the family bonds but also strengthening the national spirit, it is through the traditional craft of Hrvatsko Zagorje that the jolly toys are able to serve as a kindly reminder that it takes so little to bring a smile into someone’s life.

Even though being tiny in size, the message behind the eco-friendly wooden toys is like a big echo that flows from one generation to another. The echo points out to the Universal truth that a single gesture such as merely saying “Thank you” is capable of opening the gateway to a world of shared joy where the hopes for a better future unite people throughout the globe despite all their differences.

Thank you

For each nice word,

That you used to say to me,

For each glance from you,

For each smile from you, thank you!

So little good things

Can be found in living,

And there can be sun one minute,

The next it goes behind the cloud.

And you gave to my heart

So much sunshine.

What can I do but tell you:

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

“Fala” – Croatian folk song