Around the world, February is the time of the year for celebrating the end of winter and preparing for spring. Many of these celebrations are tied to the Christian holiday of Shrovetide (or pre-Lent). These famous celebrations include Rio Carnival, Mardi Gras, or the Venice Carnival. In Slovenia, they have some very unique traditions for what they call Pust.
Traditions vary from town to town with different characters or activities. The most famous of all Pust characters is the kurent. He is so famous that in Ptuj, his “home”, the carnival event is called kurentovanje. In Cerknica they have karneval and in Cerkno they call it laufarija.
Preparing for Pust: A Dictionary
Before we dive into how to experience Pust in Slovenia it is useful to breakdown some of the characters and vocabulary you might need during the festivities!
The most iconic of all the characters is the kurent (kurenti is the plural form). He is a demon that comes out for Pust to scare away the winter. His costume is made of feathers, horns made of wood, wrapped in leather, and then decorated with ribbons or paper flowers. Covered in a coat of sheep skill with five cowbells tied around his waist. Always with high boots accompanied by red or green socks and a wooden club covered in hedgehog skin (ježevke) on the end.
After kurenti, the Rusa is a personal favorite of mine. The first time I saw it I laughed so much as it was running in circles, falling to the ground, and I had no idea what it was. Now I know the boxy looking four-legged monster is the Rusa, a horse that brings health and fertility to horses and other farm animals.
He leads the kurenti and wears a black or red outfit with big horns. He has a long red tongue, and sometimes he drags along a fishing net to catch souls.
These are a group of men to do a symbolic plowing of the fields. This is to announce the start of working with the fields and for fertility for the crops. They are often accompanied by the whip-cracker and kurents. In some villages, they will circle the whole town for protection, or do the first plowing of a field.
Krofi are donuts. They refer to a specific marmalade stuffed donut covered in powdered sugar that you will find being sold absolutely everywhere. Stands begin to open on the streets selling fresh krofi daily. Gostilna Trojane is the most famous place to go for the krofi.
You may hear this term often around Slovenia. Maškara refers to people dressed in costume (similar to our trick or treaters) but it can refer to anyone in costume.
Yes, Pust is the name of the holiday and translates to Shrovetide, but it is also the name for an anthropomorphic representation of winter. All of these celebrations are meant to scare Pust and get rid of him (bring spring).
How is Pust celebrated in Slovenia?
The origins of these traditions are not known but are attributed to earlier Slavic, Celtic, or Illyrian customs. Originally these customs were performed differently in each village, and usually involved a door to door element, in fact, the door to door rounds of kurents is a UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The kurenti go house to house to scare away winter. The residents provide krofi, salami, and wine to their scary visitors. There is a great video made by UNESCO shows these customs being held in different towns.
Traditionally, only unmarried men could be kurenti. Their outfits made by specialists, treated with the same care as their Sunday best. The tradition is passed down by the family, and today you can see all ages participating.
To begin the season, in Ptuj they have a special event early February where the kurenti jump over a fire at midnight and begin scaring away winter. Throughout the month there are events across the country. The weekend before Pustni torek (Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday) is when most of the big parades take place.
On Shrove Tuesday, events across the region unfold of the burning of Pust. There are different rituals in different places ranging from a burial to burning at sea.
Pust is also the time for Slovenian children to dress as maškare, just like Halloween, and go house to house. The children receive candy, krofi, or even money from each house. It is a tradition for the children to say “Ali imate kaj za pusta hrusta” before they are given some treats. This is similar to “trick or treat!” but the literal translation is “Do you have something for munchy pust?”.
Where can I see kurenti in Slovenia?
Events begin early February in Ptuj and build up throughout the month across the country. The weekend right before Ash Wednesday is when most big celebrations and parades take place. Here are some upcoming festivities:
Unfortunately, Pust has passed for 2020! Check this space for 2021 dates later this year.
Ljubljana Dragon Parade: Feb 22nd (location: Ljubljana, Slovenia)
Kurentovanje: Feb 15-25th (Ptuj, Slovenia) more info.
Cerknica Karnival: Feb 20-26th (Cerknica, Slovenia) more info.
Laufarija in Cerkno: Feb 22-25th (Cerkno, Slovenia) more info.
Istrski Karnival: Feb 21-26th (Koper, Piran, and Portorož, Slovenia) more info.
Ljubljana’s Dragon Parade
In 2019, I attended the Ljubljana’s Dragon Carnival Parade and had a great time photographing all of the participants.
Some tips if you are planning on attending is that while arriving early can be helpful to get a good spot, don’t expect that spot to stay free of people moving about. Children are often pushed to the front of crowds and it is perfectly normal here.
The parade moves slowly as each character performs their routine. They will perform it several times as they move along so that everyone will have a chance to interact and see.
Feel free to move around to get the shot! I found the parade environment to be much laxer than what I have experienced back in the US.
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