What do Rio de Janeiro, Venice, New Orleans, and Ptuj have in common? Probably good food, but most importantly, the annual carnival in masks. We all know of the famous Venice carnival, however only 380 km away in Ptuj, Slovenia there is another great festival called Kurentovanje. Kurentovanje carnival is on UNESCO’s list and Slovenian’s very important heritage. Not only that but in 2016, Kurentovanje was proclaimed as the 7th greatest carnival in the world by Lonely Planet. This 11-day rite of spring and fertility highlight event is held in Slovenia, Ptuj, and is ongoing since 1960. Please join me and see what is the fuzz about the Kurentovanje Carnival.
Kurentovanje is Slovenian most popular carnival event first organized in 1960. This 11-day festival has many activities on the program but its climax is on Shrove Sunday. By the way, Ptuj is the oldest documented town in Slovenia and heritage like this carnival goes great with it.
Today, Kurentovanje is an international festival. Among local traditional carnival groups, one can see others from Croatia, Serbia, North Macedonia, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Japan and many other countries. In addition to the parade, Kurentovanje also includes other cultural events. There can you see traditional dance performances, music concerts, and art exhibitions. Reasonably, with a good festival, there comes also good food. The festival has a strong culinary component, with local restaurants and food stands offering traditional Slovenian dishes such as krofi (a type of doughnut), kranjska klobasa (a type of sausage), and potica (a sweet bread filled with nuts or other ingredients). Please click here if you need an idea of what to eat when you are in Slovenia.
Doughnuts can be seen all over the city. It is tradition to make them around the carnival and give them to masqueraders. Traditionally these are filled with jam, but modern touches like vanilla cream and chocolate go with it great.
In Kurentovanje 2023 there were more than 100.000 visitors from all around the world. Make sure you will see it at least once in your lifetime. It is worth visiting it just to see the main character – Kurent.
The main character in this carnival is Kurent, which was first documented in 1880. According to popular belief, Kurents chase away everything bad and bring good luck and happiness.
The Kurent is a traditional Slovenian carnival figure that is associated with the celebration of “Pust” (Carnival) and is believed to have originated in the eastern part of Slovenia, in the region of Ptuj. The Kurent is typically depicted as a large, hairy, and horned beast with a long tongue, wearing a sheepskin or fur coat, a belt with cowbells, and sometimes a mask. The Kurent’s appearance can vary depending on the region, but it always carries a wooden club and is accompanied by a group of other carnival characters.
The Kurent is actually a demon but it is known as a good one. They are believed to possess supernatural powers and are said to chase away winter and evil spirits, bringing about the arrival of spring and fertility. The Kurent is also a symbol of Slovenian culture and folklore, and the tradition of the Kurent has been inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
During the Pust celebrations, which take place in February or March, groups of people dressed as Kurents parade through the streets, making noise with their cowbells and wooden clubs. The Kurents also visit homes, where they perform rituals to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck and fertility to the household. In addition to driving away evil spirits, the Kurent is also believed to have the power to heal and protect. Some people believe that being hit by a Kurent’s wooden club can bring good luck and ward off illness.
The exact origin of the Kurent is unclear, but it is thought to be related to pre-Christian Slavic and pagan beliefs. No matter where we look for the roots of this figure from Ptujsko-Dravsko Polje, Haloze, and Slovenske Gorice, we will find lore similar to the one carried by the Kurent.
The costume is made of sheep wool, the mask is made of wood and the tongue is made of leather, traditional cowbells are made of steel. The whole costume weighs around 40 kilos and you can only imagine how hot it must be jumping around in it. Are these jumps necessary? Yes. As tradition says, the bells are driving winter away. Louder is better. There must be exactly 5 cowbells. 5 bells are the perfect number for making the perfect noise to carry winter away. You will see also napkins around Kurent’s waist. Those are from girls who show their affection to them.
There are many rules about Kurents. One of them is “no one should see who is carrying the mask, and Kurent could take it off at home and hide it.” One of the rules is also only grown single males could wear a mask. Today we can see also kids, women, and of course married men wearing it.
Here you can see my artistic approach to Kurents in black and white. However, Kurents are the most important characters but they aren’t the only ones.
You Might Also Like
Other Characters of Kurentovanje
There are also Gypsies from Dornava on Ptujsko Polje. Unique local custom where almost all villagers dress up in Gypsies. They assume many different roles, such as fortune-tellers, knife grinders, musicians, chicken thieves, etc. It is certainly a great addition to the humor, which is the main feeling in Carnival.
Devil accompanies Kurent and he makes sure the procession goes undisturbed. Pitchfork in his hands and a net for catching souls are essential.
The Whip Crackers
Traditionally, already in the night immediately after Candlemas, boys and men started cracking their whips in the hope to chase away dark forces and evil spirits. Well, after you hear that snap you might be chased away as well.
Jürek and Rabolj
Jürek and Rabolj also known as Green George and Winter demon have this fight all over the city. Green George is representing nature and spring while the demon represents winter. Jürek and Rabolj perform a fight in which the winter demon Rabolj is beaten and banished to Donačka gora.
Rusa is an animal that brings health and fertility to horses and other animals. It reminds me of Chinese lions without acrobatic abilities. However, they are much more fun, they play tricks and are unruly. That’s why Rusas are accompanied by a driver with a whip.
Old Woman Carrying Her Man
This figure is recognized throughout various European nations as an embodiment of the spirits of the deceased, typically portrayed as an elderly person. A participant places a wicker basket without a bottom over their shoulders, with a rag doll of either a man or woman attached to the front. The female character’s face is usually adorned with paint or soot, and her costume typically features exaggerated breasts, while the male character carries a spear and dons an old hat.
Straw Bride Looking for Her Groom
This customary practice involves young men dressing up as females and pulling a cart with a scarecrow bride in it, to the delight of onlookers. At each home where a suitable young man resided, they would offer him the “bride,” who was, of course, exceedingly wealthy, possessing livestock, money, and numerous other assets. The “bride” was adorned with onion garlands instead of flowers.
The spearman of Markovci in the Ptujsko Polje region is not a traditional carnival character, but rather an essential figure at peasant weddings, where he assists the bride and groom and provides entertainment for guests. In 1960, a group of spearmen led the inaugural carnival parade in Ptuj, dressed in their finest black suits, adorned with decorated hats and black boots. The spearmen danced, tossing their spears, which were decorated with multicolored ribbons, high into the air.
The tradition of ploughing (plowing) is a highly popular carnival custom, steeped in the long-forgotten rituals of ploughing the defensive magic circle around the village and the ceremonial first furrow to mark the beginning of fieldwork. In the Ptuj region, the most distinguished ploughmen come from villages including Markovci, Lancova Vas, Podlehnik, Leskovec, Dornava, and Okič in Haloze. A group of ploughmen typically consists of three pairs of “horses” pulling a decorated wooden plough, accompanied by a Kurent. The whip cracker leads the way, wielding a long whip to chase away evil spirits and signal the plowmen’s arrival.
and many others.
If you are attending the main carnival make sure to arrive early. That way you can check the town of Ptuj and Ptuj castle, find your spot where the carnival will be held and enjoy doughnuts without the crowd.
If you will be there early you can see the Kurent’s masks and clothing in the park and around the city when they are preparing.
The last tip and the most important one, have fun!