Have ever thought about turning into somebody else for a day? To become a historical figure, or your favourite cartoon or comic character? How about a walking caricature of your least favourite politician? Well, in Slovenia you can do just that every year, you just need to visit during carnival time.
Carnival is an annual festival which ends on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras or Pancake Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of the forty-day Christian Lent leading up to Easter. In Slovenia the festive food is donuts, rather than pancakes. The idea is to use up the supplies, eggs and flour, before the fasting time of Lent. The carnival usually involves a public procession of masks. In Slovenia many people also attend private carnival parties and masked children go from door to door asking for treats. The largest and most famous carnivals in Slovenia take place in Ptuj (kurentovanje), Cerknica (karneval) and Cerkno (laufarija).
Kurentovanje in Ptuj
The traditional carnival in Ptuj, the oldest town in Slovenia, is called Kurentovanje. It is the most famous and the largest carnival event in Slovenia. Kurentovanje is also a candidate for inclusion on the UNESCO list of immaterial heritage. The main figure is a kurent (or korant), a scary masked figure clad in sheepskins, with large horns, cow bells and a long whip. The most similar living creature to the kurent I can think of is wildebeest. Jumping continuously to sound the cow bells and cracking their whips, the kurents are very loud as they supposedly chase the winter away with their noise. Kurentovanje in Ptuj lasts for 11 days, but groups of kurents travel all around Slovenia, and regularly also visit the Slovenian parliament and other state and local institutions.
Karneval in Cerknica
A wide range of colourful characters mark the traditional carnival in Cerknica, a town by the famous intermittent lake of the same name. The central figure is the witch Ursula, who descends from the nearby Slivnica mountain every year. Other carnival characters include literary figures like Martin Krpan or Butalci, legendary figures like Povodni mož (a male water spirit) as well as contemporary figures, especially politicians.
Laufarija in Cerkno
The origins of Laufarija, the traditional carnival event in Cerkno, are not known, and it is considered to be a pre-christian pagan tradition. The name derives from the German verb laufen (to run), as some of the main characters of the carnival continuously run around. Laufarija starts on the first Sunday of the year when the first Laufar (runner) appears, running around Cerkno. On the second Sunday there are two, on the third three, and so on until the carnival Sunday. The carnival ends on Shrove Tuesday, when Pust (King Carnival) is put to death, which symbolizes the end of winter and the arrival of spring.
Other famous carnivals in Slovenia and beyond
There are many local carnival events all over Slovenia and some of the most interesting include Kostanjevica na Krki (šelmarija), Ljutomer (fašenk), Šenčur (procession of godlars), Kočevje (mačkarada), Mozirje, Kotlje and, of course, in Ljubljana (Zmajev karneval). In Croatia the most famous carnival festival is held in Reka (Rijeka)
Aside from the Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the carnival in Rio de Janeiro, the Venice carnival is probably the best known carnival celebration in the world. And Venice is only 150 km (less than 100 miles) away from Slovenia, a two hours’ drive from Ljubljana, our capital. Visiting the Venice carnival as a daytrip from Slovenia makes a sensible alternative to staying in the overcrowded and overpriced Venice. Some 3 million visitors come to Venice every year to see the carnival. About half a million visitors come to Ljubljana. In a year 🙂