Monthly Archives: December 2014

New Year’s Lucky Charms and Traditional Festive Customs in December in Slovenia

The most joyful month of the year is here again, and like every year this is the time for presents, happy and peaceful moments with loved ones, merrymaking, family reunions, and time when we usually look back and see what we have achieved over the year. The majority of people make plans, goals, vows for next year, but when comes the end of the year again, they usually realise nothing special has changed. In Slovenia, so called »Happy December«, veseli december, starts at the very beginning of December, which is also when the first good man distributes gifts to children.

The three good men

The first good man is called Saint Nicholas, Miklavž in Slovenian, and he brings presents on December 6th to every good child, but parkeljni, or devils, who accompany St. Nicholas, scare those who weren’t that good during the year. Miklavž is more modest – he usually brings some candy, chocolates, fruits and pastry in a shape of »parkelj« (the latter are very popular for St. Nicholas day).

My this year’s »parkelj« and a mistletoe.

My »parkelj« and a mistletoe for this year.

Božiček or Santa Claus originates in United States, and is the most popular among these three men. He lives in the North Pole and his typical outfit is red and white. He brings presents the night before Christmas, on a Christmas evening (December 24th). He is also more generous than St. Nicholas.

The last one is Dedek Mraz, Father Frost, who distributes gifts on New Year’s Eve, December 31st. He originates in Russia, where he’s called »Ded Moroz«. We made our own outfit for him.

Dedek Mraz

Dedek Mraz

Christmas time

This is a time dedicated to a family, home and many customs. Christmas is the biggest Catholic holiday, when Catholics celebrate the birth of Christ. They set a Christmas tree, božično drevo, decorated with Christmas ornaments, and turn on fairy lights (a special activity for children). On the door usually hangs an Advent wreath, adventni venček, but some people also put it on the table (it can include 4 candles for 4 Advent Sundays). There is also a nativity scene, called jaslice, and a good festive feast can’t be missed either: there are many types of bread, Christmas cakes, božični kolačiin a shape of wreath, medenjaki or gingerbread biscuits, and of course potica, which people eat on every occasion, not just for special celebrations.

Christians also attend a Midnight Mass, polnočnica. On December 24th there is usually a Christmas dinner, božična večerja, and the next day, on Christmas, božič, people have a traditional Christmas lunch in a family circle. In this time visits are inappropriate.

»adventni venček«

»adventni venček«

In the past, especially in the countryside, people went door to door and were singing Christmas carols, called kolednice. Like this they were wishing luck to families. This custom is rarely seen nowadays.

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve, in Slovenian called silvestrovo, isn’t a religious celebration, so people usually celebrate a New Year, novo leto, with friends and less formally. As an interesting fact, all holidays are written lowercase in Slovenian, except those which come from a proper name, for example Prešernov dan (Prešeren’s day). Celebrating of a New Year abroad has also become very popular among Slovenians. Open-air celebrations are quite popular too recent years in Slovenia, but there are some of us – including myself –, who don’t like crowded places and the cold, and prefer to celebrate in more intimate way.

When we were kids, it was really exciting to put up a fir tree, novoletna jelka, and write home-made Christmas or New Year’s cards. Everything is in a mystical red color, which symbolizes happiness and is present everywhere in this time: tablecloths, candles, ornaments are all in red. For love happiness in the New Year I heard it is advisable to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve. And for abundance it is good to light a gold candle.

A midnight toast with champagne is generally a must – no matter if you celebrate at home or outside. And if you break a glass by accident, you will be lucky in coming year. In Slovenia we usually wish each other everything good for the new year on January 1st or later.

New Year’s good luck charms

There are plenty of talismans, and it is a custom to give them others in that time of the year. They can be just symbolic, not huge ones – many years ago I got a tiny piggy, a wooden ladybug and a horseshoe, and I carry all of them in a wallet. Lucky charms are very common on Christmas/New Year’s cards too.

Podkev, a horseshoe, is a very common symbol of luck. People usually hang it on the door. There are two ways: it can hang downwards (it protects the house from evil forces) or upwards like a bowl (it brings happiness into the family).

»Pikapolonica« and »prašiček«.

»Pikapolonica« and »prašiček«.

Here are also a ladybug, pikapolonica, which brings the biggest luck if it lands on our hands, a fly agaric, rdeča mušnica, where reside dwarves and bring us luck, and a 4-leaf clover, štiriperesna deteljica, which is supposed to drive away evil forces and protect people. It is very rare, so if you find it, it means a huge amount of luck. When we were kids, we held our buttons and made a wish, when we saw a chimney sweep, dimnikar. This superstition is very old and well-known. The thing is that nowadays it’s very hard to meet them, but in case you do, quickly make a wish. A piggy, prašiček, symbolizes a fertility and abundance in New Year. It is also a very common lucky charm.

Festive Ljubljana

In the capital, as in every other Slovenian city, December is especially busy. If you are anywhere around town, you are welcome to stop and enjoy in December celebration. Traditionally there is a big spruce tree in Prešeren square with a lot of stands, where they offer mulled wine, kuhano vino or kuhanček, and hot chocolate. Some of the festive stands, where they sell all kinds of things, are also along the river Ljubljanica.

What I like the most is the smell of a cinnamon, which spreads around. The city becomes magical at night because of the fairy lights. On New Year’s Eve it is quite lively in the city center. An open-air celebration is accompanied by a music program and fireworks at midnight from Ljubljana castle.

Ljubljana in December

Ljubljana in December

Paddy and Valentina wish you all the best in 2015 (and plenty of joy with learning Slovenian)!

Slovenia – A Land of Sportsmen

Slovenia is a land of natural wonders, from Pannonian Plain to the Adriatic coastline. It is also a land of traditions mixed with modern progress. But this land, in the heart of Europe, isn’t known only for its natural beauty, which spreads to every corner of the country, its also known for its people – in particular, Slovenian sportsmen who, I’m sure, are well-known all around the globe. Individuals in diverse sports disciplines achieve very good scores in championships and competitions of all kinds.

I will name just a few of them and their sports discipline in English and Slovenian, so you can learn some new sports vocabulary, and brush up on your Slovenian sports trivia.

The “queen of sports” – athletics (Slo. ‘atletika) – is popular in Slovenia: Jolanda Batagelj (ex Čeplak) was one of the best Slovenian female athletes in the 800-metre sprint. 2002 was her most successful year, she placed exceptionally well in world and European championships (in latter winning gold). Jolanda finished her career in 2009. Some other well-known and successful Slovenian athletes are Brigita Bukovec, Primož Kozmus and Matic Osovnikar.

Primož Kozmus

Primož Kozmus

Alpine skiing (Slo. ‘alpsko smučanje) is one of the most popular sports in Slovenia. Tina Maze is the most successful Slovenian female skier. She competes in female alpine skiing; skiing the downhill, slalom and giant slalom. She won several competitions, including the world championships and Olympic games – 2012/13 were her most successful years. Other Slovenian representatives of alpine skiing are: Bojan Križaj, Jure Košir, Špela Pretnar, Urška Hrovat …

Tina Maze

Tina Maze

Slovenians are generally enthusiastic hikers, climbers and alpinists (luckily we have many hills and mountains 🙂 ). Some representatives of alpinism (Slo. ‘alpinizem’) are Tomo Česen and Tomaž Humar. Tomaž was a very successful and passionate Slovenian alpinist and climber who conquered peaks around the world – in an attempt to reach the top of a mountain in Nepal in 2009, he tragically injured himself and unfortunately passed away. He wrote his autobiography ‘Ni nemogočih poti’, ‘No Impossible Ways’.

Tomaž Humar

Tomaž Humar

Cross-country skiing (Slo. ‘tek na smučeh’): Petra Majdič was, with her two medals in the world championships and one bronze medal in winter Olympic games (Vancouver 2010), a great Slovenian ski runner. She retired in 2011.

Petra Majdič

Petra Majdič

Ice hockey (Slo. ‘hokej na ledu’) is another ‘cold’ sport which has a lot of fans. The 27-year-old Anže Kopitar is a successful Slovenian hockey player who joined the North American league NHL (Los Angeles kings). Other Slovenian hockey players are: Marcel Rodman, Rok Nahtigal, Luka Žagar, and more.

Anže Kopitar

Anže Kopitar

Water sports deserve a mention too, as we have some very good rowers and swimmers. The “Kings” of rowing (Slo. ‘veslanje’) are Iztok Čop and Luka Špik. They won several gold medals in the world championships and have achieved other successes.

Another water sport, swimming (Slo. ‘plavanje’), also has great Slovenian representatives: Sara Isakovič was a successful Slovenian female swimmer till recently, when she decided to quit a career at the age of 26. She won one gold medal in Eindhoven in 2008 and one silver medal in the Olympic games in Beijing (2008) – both swimming 200 metres.  Peter Mankoč is also a very successful Slovenian swimmer. And we certainly can’t forget our ‘river man’, Martin Strel, a marathon swimmer who has swam many of the longest rivers in the world, such as the Mississippi, Jangce Kiang and Amazon.

Urška Žolnir competes in martial arts – judo (Slo. ‘judo’). She won a gold in the Olympic games in London (2012). She has been successful in other world and European championships.

Left: Urška Žolnir

Left: Urška Žolnir

Here is another fighting sport, boxing (Slo. ‘boks’), with its successful professional Slovenian boxer Dejan Zavec, also called ‘Mr. Sympathikus’. In his professional boxing career he won more than 30 fights.

And last but not least, we have gymnastics (Slo. ‘gimnastika’) and its very successful Slovenian athlete Mitja Petkovšek. His gymnastic discipline is the parallel bars. He won a gold medal six times: twice in the world championships and four times in the European championships.