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After a more or less sleepy January, things pick up in February – a month of Shrovetide celebrations, carnivals, parades, and also a special day for lovers. Shrovetide, pust, starts on a different day each year (usually in February, but it can also be in March), depending on Easter. When we know the exact date of Easter, we deduct 46 days and get the date of Ash Wednesday, pepelnična sreda (in Christian religion this is the first day of Lent). A day before, is Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras (this year on February 17th). But carnivals and parades start before that day – a peak of celebrations is on the weekend before Mardi Gras. This year Shrove Saturday comes on the same day as Valentine’s Day, on February 14th.
Shrovetide celebrations are generally very popular in Slovenia, especially among children. At this time of year people put on various carnival masks, transforming themselves into characters they like. These so called pustne šeme or maškare (carnival masks) go door-to-door and ask for some candy – similar to Halloween. In the past it was said they drive away the winter and bring luck if they ring on our door. The custom is more distinctive in the countryside, but it can also be found in cities. Carnival masks usually get candy, doughnuts, cookies, and sometimes even spare change. This door-to-door tradition is still very popular among youngsters. As I remember from my childhood, we had great fun during Shrovetide.
Students usually dress up and go to school, where they organise a competition for the most innovative carnival mask. And teachers get dressed up too!
On the weekend before Shrove Tuesday, pustni torek in Slovenian, there are many carnivals all around Slovenia. The most well-known international carnival is kurentovanje or Kurents Carnival in the city of Ptuj, with its famous carnival mask kurent or korent. Kurents are dressed in a sheepskin coat, gaiters, around their belts they have bells, and on their heads they carry a typical mask. The whole outfit can be quite heavy, according to some, it can weigh up to 70 kilograms for a male Kurent. Kurents are mostly men, but women and children can be under the masks too. As we already touched on in our festivals blog post, Kurents drive away the winter and bring the spring and rich harvest with jumping and jangling.
Another parade takes place in Cerknica, a town in south-west Slovenia, which is known for witches from Slivnica Hill. A famous mother witch Uršula is present in a parade every year, along with other witches and mythological creatures from Lake Cerknica – the largest intermittent lake in Slovenia. On Shrovetide, Cerknica suddenly becomes an imaginary town called Butale, and its citizens are Butalci, which can be translated as boneheads (the »smart« and comic Butalci character originates from a comedy by Slovenian writer, Fran Milčinski).
Carnivals take place in other towns as well, such as in Cerkno and Ljubljana. In the latter is the Dragon Carnival, which takes place on Shrove Saturday. Shrove Tuesday is the last day of the carnival, and on this day or the day after, Shrovetide is buried until next year.
Beside all the pranks and carnival masks, delicious pastries are present everywhere. Well-skilled housekeepers prepare them at home, but they offer the carnival pastries in every bakery and grocery shop at this time. An absolute winner is pustni krof, a Shrove doughnut. There are also other typical fried pastry, such as miške (little mice) and flancati.
Slovenians like to eat doughnuts all year round, but on Shrovetide a demand is even bigger. The most famous doughnut comes from Trojane, therefore it is called trojanski krof. This one is particularly big and filling! Doughnuts are usually filled with an apricot jam or vanilla cream, and on the top, sprinkled with a powdered sugar. Good food makes the Shrovetide celebration, pustovanje, even greater.
Valentine’s Day or valentinovo in Slovenian, nearly coincides with Shrovetide. Today more people look forward to Shrovetide than Valentine’s Day, which has become more a celebration for merchants, who attract us to buy all kinds of chocolate hearts, love cards, roses, and more hearts…
In the past Saint Valentine, sveti Valentin, announced the time for first garden work and farm chores on February 14th. Later on, the celebration of valentinovo got a more romantic hint. Today’s romantic celebration of the Valentine’s Day actually originates in the Netherlands. It is a holiday of lovers and friendship. It is still popular to exchange love cards – valentines, or even letters (in some cases anonymous) on this day, especially in schools. As I can see, for most people this is just another ordinary day. But on February 14th some of us have a name day, in Slovenian god, which can also be a good reason to celebrate.