Kurents are some of the most recognisable Slovenian Carnival characters. You can mainly encounter them in Ptuj and its surrounding area, on the Drava Field, and in the Haloze Hills and Slovenske Gorice Hills. You will recognise them by their typical attire, known as Kurentija. This consists of a hat, a sheepskin suit, green or red knee-high gaiters, bells attached to a chain around the belt, and a ježevka (a thick stick with hedgehog spines). Small handkerchiefs given to Kurents by women are attached to the chain or the ježevka stick. The door-to-door rounds of the Kurent are inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and are held between Candlemas and Ash Wednesday. According to folklore, Kurents chase away evil forces by jumping and making noise, and call better times to the land, be it in the form of welfare, warmer spring or good harvest. If you would like to meet a Kurent up close, visit a traditional Kurentovanje celebration in Ptuj.
The Laufarija festival in Cerkno
During the Carnival season, Cerkno is well worth a visit. There, you can meet Laufarji, typical characters that wear special masks (larfe) made of linden wood. A group of laufarji consists of 25 characters that gradually begin gathering between the first Sunday after the New Year and Quinquagesima Sunday. They symbolise the features and weaknesses of particular groups of people. The central character is called Pust, he wears moss, has horns, and carries a small spruce tree in his hands. During Shrovetide, he is convicted for all of the bad things that happened in the past year. In addition to Pust, there are also other characters dressed in various natural materials, such as ivy, hay, and animal skins. These materials also lend them their names – “the Ivy Man,” “the Hay Man,” “the Fleece Man,” “the Spruce Man” etc. The only talking character is “the Old Man,” and an important role is also played by Pust’s guards known as the “Threaded Men.”
Škoromati are the oldest Carnival masks in Slovenia. On Shrove Saturday, you can find them in the villages of the southern slopes of the Brkini Hills and the Podgrajsko-Matarsko Plain, where they go on a Poberija – door-to-door rounds collecting gifts from people’s homes. This task is entrusted to the Poberin (the Gatherer), who is the only character wearing holiday attire. Colourful hats made of paper flowers are the typical symbol of the Škoromati with bells. One of the central characters is also the Kleščar or Škopit, who chases after women, girls, and children with pincers, so that aŠkoromat can spread soot on their faces. The Hrušica Škoromati are quite special, as they are the only characters, in addition to the Poberin, that wear face masks.
Awaiting Spring with Shrovetide traditions
You can also find interesting Carnival season customs and characters elsewhere in Slovenia. Join the celebrations in Drežnica and Drežniške Ravni near Kobarid. Meet “the Ugly Ones” chasing young people to throw ashes on them and “the Beautiful Ones” visiting homes, dancing, and gathering gifts. Don’t miss the Zagorica and Ponikve Mačkare, where Carnival customs are mixed with elements of folk theatre. The contrasts between good and evil and “the beautiful” and “the ugly” are shown by the Vrbica Shrovetide Characters near Ilirska Bistrica. If you visit Kostanjevica na Krki, you will be greeted by Šelmarji, and you can recognise them by their metal head known as the Šelma. In the land of Kurenti, you can also witness door-to-door rounds by Carnival Ploughmen who symbolically plough and sow a seed in farmyards to ensure a good harvest in the field. In Prekmurje, don’t miss the Pine Wedding (Borovo gostüvanje). People used to believe that if no one in the village got married in the period before Carnival season or in the wedding days between Christmas and Ash Wednesday, a symbolic Pine Wedding was held.
Carnival in Cerknica
During the Carnival season, Cerknica transforms into one of the most vibrant carnival towns in Slovenia. The Cerknica parade is known for massive Carnival masks, such as Ursula the Witch, Jezerko the Lake Man, the Giant Pike Fish, the Dragon, Liza the Witch, and Butalci. Events in Cerknica begin on Fat Thursday with a traditional sawing of the witch. On Shrove Sunday, Shrovetide masks and characters parade on the streets of Cerknica. A feast for the eyes!
Carnivals in large Slovenian towns
In addition to the traditional Carnival customs and figures, you can find carnival masks and Shrovetide parades in many large towns. Visit Ljubljana Dragon Carnival, where a large green dragon walks along the streets of the city centre, followed by various Carnival masks usually linked to a selected theme. On the coast, the winter is chased away by Carnival figures at the Istrian Carnival Parade. A large carnival celebration is organised annually at the central square in Maribor. On the streets and squares of the old town centre of Kranj, you can join in the Cheerful Carnival.