Krofi (traditional doughnuts filled with marmalade), masks, bells and skins, satire and laughter! This is the Slovenian carnival, a time known for heavy feasting. In keeping with an ancient tradition, Slovenians still believe that carnival masks bring luck and a good harvest. Slovenia has a strong carnival tradition. Kurentovanje in the town of Ptuj is one of the ethnologically most significant festivals in Central Europe and by far the biggest carnival event in the Slovenian lands. Another attractive venue is Cerknica with its large procession and carefully crafted local masks inspired by characters from books, stories and legends.
"Slovenia is a small-scale Europe," said Niko Kuret, Slovenian ethnologist and carnival culture researcher. In Slovenia around 176 different carnival figures can be found, while different forms of carnival celebrations take place in over 700 locations around the country. To this day, masked groups that walk around villages going from house to house are still rewarded with sweets and coins.
The carnival itinerary is marked by the beginning of carnival, the big carnival procession and the burial of the Carnival. In order to chase the winter away and welcome spring, people have been putting on masks since ancient times. The carnival was later incorporated into Christian calendar before Easter.
Over 120,000 visitors and 10,000 carnival figures and masks from 12 to 15 countries are expected to attend this year’s 54th Kurentovanje festival (from 22 February to 4 March). With this, Ptuj has become one of the most important venues in the Federation of European Carnival Cities. The organisers strive to include kurent, the best-known traditional Slovenian carnival figure that many people see as a sort of Dionysus, the god of joy, on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage.
The kurent masks stay in the family and are handed down from generation to generation. No place in Slovenia is safe from them. They even jingle their way into Parliament each year. Even the mayor of Ptuj puts on his 30kg outfit made of skin and hangs a chain of bells around his waist. What else could he do? Carnival turns local politics upside down and power is taken over by carnival authorities.
Cerknica, for instance, turns into Butale, the village of "the smartest inhabitants of Slovenia". This year Butale will celebrate the Year of the Frog. For the first time, frogs from intermittent Lake Cerknica will dwarf the witches of Slivnica, the dragon, strong, salt-smuggling Martin Krpan, and Jezerko, the water man. This merry Cerknica company was brought to life in accordance with the motives of J. V. Valvasor, one of the first Slovenian natural historians and cartographers.
Another interesting phenomenon is merrymaking in the company of the Cerkno laufar (runner) family, who bring "big turnips" (a good harvest). A group of male carnival figures said to own everything during carnival wears wooden head masks made of lime tree, which is a symbol of Slovenianness. Their main figure is the Carnival who symbolises the winter and is to blame for all that went wrong throughout the year, which is why it has to be buried as soon as possible.
Slovenian carnival events do not lack craziness, rollicking and social satire. The choice of masks often draws attention to pressing local, national and global affairs. The main part of the International Carnival in Ptuj with over 2000 loud kurents and the Year of the Frog in Cerknica will be this year’s main eye candies, but Carnival parades will also fill the streets of all the other Slovenian towns. The 6th Istrian Festival will take place in Portorož, Koper and Izola, the Dragon Carnival in Ljubljana and the traditional Ski Carnival at the Stari vrh ski resort.