Editorial Assistant Sophie Poredos takes you through a cultural celebration that is central to her Slovenian heritage.
Huddling indoors in my ridiculously oversized Oodie knock-off, my mind keeps drifting to the fruitful promises of spring. If only I could chase away the blues of winter and our never-ending rain bomb with a few monstrous cries like Kurentovanje.
Growing up with Slovenian heritage, I was always drawn to the strange and other-worldly pagan history in a predominantly Christian country. Within the fairy-tale landscape of this forgotten country lies rich Slavic culture built on 8th-century pre-Christianity traditions.
Kurentovanje is a celebration I have not had the pleasure of yet seeing in person, but my parents are strangely reminiscent of its loud ringing cattle bells and woolly fur suits. This February festival takes place in Ptuj (Slovenia’s oldest town) where citizens are encouraged to dress in sheepskin costumes to represent Kurent. Kurent is a God not for the faint-hearted, known as the god of hedonism (think of Dionysus, but Slavic). His monstrous sheep-skin costuming is embraced by the local’s handmade masks that aim to scare away the lingering remnants of winter. This pagan tradition between Candlemas and Ash Wednesday also brings forth the upcoming light half of the year. Beginning in 1960, only young men wore the costumes of ‘Kurents’ where the pack was often led by the devil. Nowadays this lively spring celebration can be celebrated by all as it promises a good harvest and an abundance of fertility
This festival has been compared to Mardi Gras due to the colourful folk characters, but I believe this label does not give justice to the traditional food and folk music encompassing locals in a week-long celebration of life. Whilst the Kurent makes an appearance, other lively and bizarre characters such as Baba Nosi Deda (An old woman carrying her man) bring forth fertility and the Cigani (Travellers) add merriment to the floats. I’ve certainly never seen such attention to detail and a strong folk tradition with any costume parade like Kurentovanje, where local Slovenians are proud to embrace their strangely beautiful traditions.
Everyone is invited and welcomed to participate through the Shrovetide custom of door-knocking by the folk characters. Recognised as a UNESCO custom, door-knocking in this case is actually desired as the Kurents would circle each home and ring cow bells covered with bright ribbons to bring luck to the owners. Just watch the devil in bright overalls with the net slung lazily over his back, your soul just might be captured if you underestimate his clever sheepskin mask. I can’t imagine anyone could be seduced under a smelly sheep-skin costume but as they say, watch those dressed in sheep’s clothing.
Kurentovanje is the only celebration I can think of where I’d enjoy rowdy locals in my front yard, although I’ve heard the Devil likes to pinch a kransky or two.