During our flight to Slovenia we were browsing through my guide book when we came across reference to a festival that fell on Shrove Sunday, a quick bit of maths and knowing when pancake day was, told us that as luck would have it we would be in Slovenia on this day. At this point a lovely Slovenian girl sat next to me offered us advice on what we should go and see during our trip. When we asked her about the festival she bubbled over with enthusiasm and said we had to go. To give us an insight into how popular the whole affair was she told us that her friends were getting married on Saturday in a local town and all the guests were to come dressed up. When we asked dressed up in what, she said it didn’t matter just fancy dress! I think it was at this point we gathered that this traditional festival was obviously a big deal to the Slovenian’s and we should go and see what it was all about.
Once connected to 4G I discovered that the festival was called Kurentovanje and is in fact Slovenia’s most popular and significant carnival. The traditional and cultural festivities are celebrated across Slovenia for 10 days and are ceremonial of spring and fertility with the main carnival being on Shrove Sunday in an old town called Ptuj, approximately 130km away from Ljubljana. The purpose of the festival is to ‘chase away winter’ and ‘welcome spring’ with safe passage for breeding and crops.
The predominant persona of these festivities is the mythical creature known as the Kurent and in early Slavic practice was seen as an extravagant god of uninhibited desires and hedonism. Originally in these festivals the role of the Kurent was only offered to unmarried men, however this tradition must have changed over time as we saw children and woman, as well as men playing the part. The Kurents’ are dressed in traditional clothing made of sheepskin, with big masks and cow horns, and are really quite scary looking. They carry wooden clubs and have cow bells attached to their waist; the noise of both are used to chase away winter. Tied to these clubs are hankies offered from the ladies and the Kurent with the most hankies is thought to be the most popular amongst the females (this might explain why we noticed the odd bra or thong attached to a club!!).
On the days leading up to Shrove Sunday we noticed various individuals darting about the place dressed up; a cloud wig with rain coming down, a devil, the sun, a knight and so it went on. We noticed the restaurant in our guest house in Bled was suitable decorated and that the streets in towns were lined with colourful decorations. On Sunday as we drove to Ptuj and reached the outskirts of the town we actually met with traffic and joined a queue (pretty unheard of if you read my previous blog on Ljubljana). Once parked up we followed the masses on foot to the town centre. The Slovenian’s lined the streets 6 deep to catch a glimpse of the parade, there were thousands of face painted faces, a hundred different shades of coloured wigs, every onesie you could possible imagine, the mother next to me was dressed as a cow and her young son as a dragon, the girl to my left was a bumble bee and those who weren’t feeling so adventurous at least wore a mask. I might also add that I have never seen so many men walking around confidently donning bright pink wigs!
The parade itself was bright, loud and colourful consisting of jugglers, mimes, Kurents, devils, carnival dancers, gypsy dancers, more Kurents, whip crackers and many more Kurents! It really was an honour to be a part of such an important cultural ritual, one only had to look around at the age span of those participating or watching to see that it really is a festival that will continue to be celebrated for centuries to come and definitely no fear of this tradition dying out just yet.
When we decided it was time to take a break from the frolics we wandered along the narrow cobbled streets towards Ptuj castle that overlooked the picturesque town and took a seat on the wall admiring the view. We could still hear the noise of the cow bells jangling from the waist of the Kurents’ as they jumped up and down chasing away winter…