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Rich Easter traditions still preserved in Koroška

Slovenj Gradec, 18 April - Slovenia boasts a rich heritage of Easter traditions, with some of them originating in the pre-Christian, pagan times. In the northern region of Koroška some of these traditions, unique to the region, are still preserved today although perhaps in a slightly more modern form.

Blessing of Easter dishes.
Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA

Preparations for Easter, the biggest holiday in the Christian calendar, start two weeks before Easter Monday and the celebration continues until Low Sunday, the Sunday following Easter.

Many of the customs and rituals associated with Easter originate in the ancient Slavic mythology, with the Christianity only adopting them and adding Jesus Christ as the main figure and his resurrection as the reason for celebration, ethnologist Brigita Rajšter of the Koroška Regional Museum told the STA.

Some of the customs related to the main celebration of spring have died away, some have changed somewhat and many are still preserved in the region, she said.

One such custom is the making of palms for Palm Sunday. In Koroška, the bundle of green branches and flowers is called pegl.

In some villages, people come together to make giant pegls, which reach more than 20 meters in length. Eight years ago, a record-long 34.7-metre pegl was made in Radlje ob Dravi.

In the past, children who ran with a blessed pegl around the house three times earned themselves a prize.

Traditionally, the branches from the palms were placed in gardens and fields to boost fertility. In the village of Črneče, children used to stick the blessed palms in the branches of their favourite tree.

One custom that is still alive today is the cleaning and tidying of homes and their surroundings during the preparations for Easter, which however have to be concluded by Wednesday before Easter. "Bringing order in disorder has a special meaning," Rajšter said.

Good Friday, observed by fasting, is the day when meals do not include any meat. On this day, women bake bread and traditional Easter deserts such as potica, šarkelj and pogača.

On Easter Saturday, the day starts with the blessing of the fire, which is used to smoke homes and stables. The torch with the blessed fire is then used to start a fire on which meat and eggs are boiled. In the evening Easter bonfires are lit.

While women and girls prepare the dishes for Eastern blessing, including ham, sausages, horseradish, coloured eggs, bread and various deserts, men and boys take care of the fire outside and set off makeshift mortars. It is an old custom imitating the cracking of rocks during Christ's resurrection.

In the past, when families were big, the oldest unmarried girl carried the Easter basket to church. They went on foot, carrying baskets on their heads. Traditionally, they decorated the basket with a bouquet, which they later used to decorate the table.

But not all dishes were allowed to be enjoyed as early on Saturday. Meat dishes could only be eaten after the morning mass on Sunday.

The traditional Easter breakfast in Koroška includes a boiled eggs salad, seasoned with horseradish, apple vinegar, pumpkin seed oil, salt and water. In the Mislinja area, ham and even potica are added to the mix.

While adults mostly look forward to Easter dishes, children used to eagerly anticipate Easter Monday, when they received Easter presents from their godfathers and godmothers.

In the past, these presents consisted of šarkelj with a coin in it, a coloured egg and possibly even an orange. Sometimes, the children would also get some new clothes.

Today, the custom is still very much alive. However, the presents have become much more valuable and could be a bicycle, roller skates or in-line skates.

Children would receive the present all the way to Low Sunday. In some parts of Koroška, some of the Easter dishes had to be preserved until then to repeat the Easter breakfast.

After Easter meals, families traditionally go out to play or take a trip together. Children used to play a very old game in which they divide themselves in two groups with those from one group asking the other how strong a bridge have they built.

Boys in particular liked to stage competitions involving eggs and coins. They would place the eggs on the ground and try to hit them with a coin. Whoever managed to get the coin stuck in the egg, won the egg.

In the village of Libeliče, five to ten boys would gather and put two narrow wooden boards on a small chair with a slot in the middle. They then rolled the eggs on it and then threw coins in them.

In Western Pohorje, children used to dig anthills to put coloured eggs in them and let ants "decorate" them with their acid.

© STA, 2019