At the time of the Carnival, people talk about kurenti, laufarji from Cerkno, pustovi from Drežnica, pozvačin from Prekmurje, šelme from Kostanjevica, škoromati from Brkini, mačkare from Dobrepolje and other traditional masks. Every Slovenian region has its masks, some old and traditional, others more modern. Slovenia is told to be one of the richest countries in masks and if you visit the kurenti, laufarji and drežniški pusti, you will not be let down.
The time when the cold winter gives way to kinder spring has long been a good reason for numerous celebrations in Slovenia. Pust – or Carnival has most joyfully illustrated the beginning of a new cycle of nature and farming. But the Carnival did not only mean an always welcome period of unbridled rejoicing, but in its original forms was based on a kind of pagan magical element which people used when trying to influence nature.
The carnival celebration is linked with masking and with numerous accompanying customs and habits which turn the social order upside down for a period of time; therefore it is said that in the time of the carnival »the world is turned upside down«. The carnival celebration was formerly connected mostly with traditional village customs, but at present it most frequently takes the form of city carnival processions and masquerades. However, numerous towns and cities have recently revived their traditional carnival celebrations.
The most famous carnival costume is that of the kurent or korant, as it is called locally at Ptujsko polje.
This magical chaser of winter and Dionysic god of unbridled rejoicing is dressed in white or black sheep skin girded with a chain full of cowbells and handkerchiefs which friendly girls give to the masked boy. On his head is a dreadful masque decorated with feathers, horns and ribbons made of colourful silk paper, in his hand is a fear-evoking ježevka – a club covered with hedgehog skin.
In Ptuj there has been a popular traditional kurents’ festival- kurentovanje every year since 1960. The event lasts a few days and is based on ancient Slavic traditions preserved in the surroundings of Ptuj. Ploughmen, who once brought good harvest with the ploughing of the first furrow, come from Markovci, Podlehnik and Lancova villages. Among the other masks worn are those of the rusa, bear, chickens, devil, old man and woman, gypsies, fairies and ploharji. Visitors can also see numerous masks of newer origin, and hundreds of noisy kurents are the peak of carnival procession. For the last years many interesting kurent-like figures from other European countries have been invited to Ptuj Carnival.
The second very popular Slovene carnival takes place in Cerknica every year. In the time of the Carnival the authority in town is overtaken by funny butalci in coalition with witches, who fly in from a nearby mountain, Slivnica, especially for this occasion, and other masks. Every year besides the guest groups who take part in the procession there are also traditional groups of dormice, frogs, bars, evils and witches, and the two especially popular figures: giant witch ancestress Uršula and lake monster Jezerko.
Among the towns in Slovenia with the most interesting Carnival events, at least Cerkno is also worth mentioning. There the traditional laufarija takes place. Laufar’s family consists of 25 figures that all (except one) carry wooden masks called larfe. The central carnival figure pust, personifies winter and is guilty for all the mistakes and awkwardness which happened in that town last year and it is therefore sentenced to death according to a precisely defined script. Their masks are similar to the ones previously mentioned, and laufarji are also in charge of providing a good harvest, which their special dance enables.
The carnival is the time before Christian fast, and it is a period of abundance of food and drink in Slovenia as well, therefore we say that it has a »greasy mouth«. Carnival celebrations do not go by without carnival doughnuts. Other popular specialities include homemade sausages, dried ribs, and brandy.
In previous years Slovenes have also been celebrating the lovers’ day - Valentine’s day in spring, but it cannot be compared with the interesting and rich Carnival tradition.