Shrovetide period as homage to heritage and community

Ljubljana, 7 February - The Shrovetide period and related carnival festivities in Slovenia are not just an entertaining way to do away with winter and usher in spring, but also a homage to local heritage and an opportunity to boost a sense of community.

Traditional Kurentovanje festival in the city of Ptuj.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA
File photo

The Shrovetide period or Pust, as it is called in Slovenian, is marked by a number of customs, including kurentovanje, which hails from the Ptuj area in northeastern Slovenia.

One of Slovenia's most popular carnival events, kurentovanje features a UNESCO-listed carnival figure - the kurent, a rather frightening costume made of sheepskin with cow bells attached to its waist.

The noisy bell-ringing is believed to chase away winter and anything evil and bring joy to those the kurents visit.

Slovenian Ethnographic Museum expert Adela Pukl has noticed during her studies that some organisations or groups devoted to the preservation of Shrovetide heritage are changing the dates of their rounds through villages, which are considered their primary purpose, so that they can attend carnival events during the Shrovetide period.

Kurents' door-to-door rounds or other appearances in villages and towns used to be a custom reserved for young unwed men solely, but it is now extended to all, including women and children, Pukl told the STA, pointing to an example of a group of women kurents.

"Shrovetide heritage is a living heritage, and that's why it has been preserved. But it changes in line with our way of life and social norms," she added.

Still, efforts to preserve local Shrovetide customs are often spearheaded by groups of young men that carry on with the traditions laid down by their elders.

They are not the only ones keeping the different customs alive though, as local communities, schools and museums are also actively involved in these efforts.

In some areas, Shrovetide customs are still considered a sort of rite of passage for boys. For example, in the Dobrepolje area in the southeastern Dolenjska region, the Ponikovske Mačkare is a group of traditional Shrovetide figures, which are performed by young men only.

They can join the community at the age of 16 and remain its member until their wedding or the birth of their first child. The Slovenian Ethnographic Museum will open an exhibition on this custom on Thursday.

People are aware of the preciousness of local heritage and fear its potential extinction, so efforts to preserve it have been taken to a higher level.

In some areas, organisations have been established for this purpose. In the Cerkno area in western Slovenia locals did just that in order to protect their custom of laufarija, which features another group of traditional Shrovetide costumes.

New members have to be at least 15, the Laufarija association's head Tomaž Lahajnar said, noting that the custom is handed down through generations. The local school and kindergarten and the Idrija Municipal Museum also play an important role in the preservation efforts.

Those are closely related to creativity and a sense of community. The Shrovetide period provides an opportunity to boost both, Mateja Habinc, a researcher from the Ljubljana Faculty of Arts, told the STA.

People can create a costume or a mask themselves, either honouring local heritage or responding to the current socio-political situation, she said. They can also get creative to make a character from their imagination.

Habinc, who head the faculty's department for Slovenian ethnology, notes that Shrovetide customs and carnivals help strengthen interpersonal bonds.

© STA, 2024