St. Stephens Day (Štefanovanje) in Slovenia

Published: 21.2.2011

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St. Stephens Day (Štefanovanje) in Slovenia

“Much grain, much wine, healthy livestock." Such is the greeting, which is still used by some Slovenians on 26 December, on St. Stephens name day. On this day, the ceremonial blessing of horses is held, with some places also organising a grand parade.

St. Stephens Day (Štefanovanje) in Slovenia

“Much grain, much wine, healthy livestock." Such is the greeting, which is still used by some Slovenians on 26 December, on St. Stephen`s name day. On this day, in many places in Slovenia, the ceremonial blessing of horses is held, with some places also organising a grand parade. The thousand year old tradition, originating in Germany, is still very much alive in places in the regions of Primorska, Dolenjska, Bela Krajina and Posavje.

In Dolenja vas near Šentjernej the "blessing" of horses will be held for the 156 consecutive year. The Šentjernej fields are among those places in Slovenia where the tradition of St. Stephen`s Day has been kept the longest. A few thousand head strong crowd admires the procession of riders on their horses, with the St. Stephen banner carried at the front of the parade from the first day of Slovenia`s independence, which, as the Day of Independence and Unity, is also celebrated on the same day. The blessing of these noble animals is followed by horse races and good food and drink, served to the strains of live music. Don`t be surprised if you get a handful of oats thrown at you. It is not the gesture of an overly tipsy visitor, but rather "Štefanovo lučanje", with which the Saint is remembered.

On St. Stephen`s Day in Vipava, the horses are harnessed to a hundred year old eight horse-drawn carriage, which transports the famous giant bell from Sveta Gora, located in the Vipava Valley. The tradition of St. Stephen`s Day also lives in other places in Slovenia. The celebration of St. Stephen`s Day (Štefanovanje) is an important part of Slovenian tradition. The feast of St. Stephen`s name day is also celebrated by the diaspora of Slovenians in Sydney, Australia.

What actually is the link between St. Stephen and horses? Legend would have it that the Deacon of Jerusalem tamed a wild horse with a symbol of the Cross, which in the eyes of the people meant that he formed an alliance with horses. The blessing of horses on his name day was first mentioned in a manuscript from Trier in Germany, in the 10th century, and on Slovenian soil, the ceremony was first reported to have taken place in Nevlje near Kamnik, close to Ljubljana.

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