Scary, but Nice

Good guy “Kurent” scares away the winter

Kurents at carnival (2021) by Marko PigacSlovenian Tourist Board

Come on, Spring!

It’s afternoon in late winter, the warm sun is melting the last little patches of snow and sunshine is finally pleasant enough that you can - for the first time this year - take off your jacket outside.

To whom goes the credit for this beautiful awakening of the spring? Well, to kurents, of course!

Group of Kurents at carnival (2021) by Marko PigacSlovenian Tourist Board

Kurent or korant, as it’s named in rural areas, is a traditional Slovenian festival character.

In general, Kurent is a savage who brings happiness, health, and a bountiful harvest, but it’s important to know the difference between the original tradition, protected by Unesco, and the festival, which is based on it.

Kurent close-up (2021) by Marko PigacSlovenian Tourist Board

In Slovenia, it’s commonly known that Kurents scare winter away. But the original ritual has quite a different meaning. The basic mission of their ritual is to develop spiritual intelligence and to evoke the memory of man's role in this vast universe . . .

. . . which is not the mindless exploitation of natural resources, the destruction of plant and animal wealth, even less the unreasonable suppression of human rights.

Kurent costume (2021) by Luka SveticSlovenian Tourist Board

The origin of this character is not completely known, but there are several different assumptions.

Kurents may be related to the Illyrian-Celtic tradition, some mention the mythological companions of the goddess Cybele, who was worshiped in the territory of Roman Poetovione in late antiquity, still other equate it with the settlement of the Uskoks in the 16th century.

Kurent costume (2021) by Luka SveticSlovenian Tourist Board

A Kurent’s role is more than theatrical. The groups of Kurents make door-to-door rounds through the whole village. People welcome them into their homes and treat them to drinks, homemade sausages or donuts.

However, turning down a Kurent’s visit is not a good idea. In this case, they drop on the ground and roll on the floor, which means a year of bad harvest for the homestead. In the past, this was no joke, as a farmer’s life depended on how good the harvest was.

Kurent costume (2021) by Luka SveticSlovenian Tourist Board

In its primary form Kurent symbolized something supernatural. It pictures an ancient attempt to influence natural laws by magic.

A large part of "kurentija" or the costume is made of sheep leather and wool, the face is made of coloured leather, and a long tongue begs out of its mouth, also made of fabric or leather. However, Kurents don’t speak. 

Kurent costume (2021) by Luka SveticSlovenian Tourist Board

They dance! And the ringing of their bells - each Kurent has at least five of them - is heard though the whole village!

When it comes to their attitude to seasons, the ritual that the Kurents perform on the village fields helps the fertility of nature. It’s kind of hymn to spring, so that it will produce a good harvest, and their way to say thank you to Mother Winter, who rested the nature.

Kurent costume (2021) by Luka SveticSlovenian Tourist Board

The frightening feature of “kurentija” is a bludgeon, which is traditionally covered in hedgehog skin. They usually hold it in the left hand, as they wish people happiness and peace with their right one.

Kurent costume (2021) by Luka SveticSlovenian Tourist Board

The Kurent rituals teach us that the meaning of life lies in caring for all beings and in building genuine interpersonal relationships. It is a set of values that make the meaning of life about giving rather than taking.

The philosophy behind it is that happiness does not come by itself. It often takes work, and really, dancing and jumping in these outfits is not a walk in the park. They weigh about 40 kg and underneath all that skin, it can get pretty hot and difficult to breathe normally.

Kurent costume (2021) by Luka SveticSlovenian Tourist Board

A part of the custom is dancing with girls - a Kurent would hug a chosen lady and dance and jump around with her. In return, she would then tie a handkerchief on their costume. In the past, the girls embroidered various motifs or their initials on these handkerchiefs.

The Kurent who collects the most handkerchiefs from the girls is the most splendid and respected.

Kurent costume (2021) by Luka SveticSlovenian Tourist Board

Being a “Kurent” is a person’s pride. It’s not just a mask, but a strong tradition with pretty strict rules.

Often the son gets the “kurentija” from his father. And he uses it carefully, so his children could use it too in a few years. It’s no wonder, as these rituals are even shamanistic in the deepest sense.

A properly performed ritual does not only bring happiness and satisfaction and the banishing of evil, but also, from the point of view of classical materialistic science, unusual actions such as healings, etc., can take place.

Kurents (2021) by Bright Visuals, Fabulatorij and Trampolin StudioSlovenian Tourist Board

Procession (2021) by Marko PigacSlovenian Tourist Board

But times change, and with them the customs. Although the tradition of door-to-door rounds is still alive in some Slovene villages, especially at Dravsko-Ptujsko polje, where it was always the most present ...

... the tradition is moving from the rural areas into the city where instead of door-to-door rounds the focus is on the festival named Kurentovanje.

Little girls as kurents (2021) by Marko PigacSlovenian Tourist Board

In the original tradition the role of women is important in the preparation of the necessary symbolic elements of the outfit (flowers, stoles and handkerchiefs). 

At the same time, it is the woman who greets the Kurents in the courtyard and gives them a sausage and a glass of schnapps as a token of appreciation for the ceremony.

Woman Kurent (2021) by Marko PigacSlovenian Tourist Board

Women do not perform this traditional ritual in their costumes, although today you see quite a few of them at Kurentovanje, which has nothing to do with the original message of this ritual  in the eyes of those who strictly respect the tradition. 

Kids Kurents (2021) by Marko PigacSlovenian Tourist Board

Even though you can see many tired, but happy faces in these outfits today, taking off the hat was the biggest rule breaker in the old days.

If some rivals took off a Kurent's mask, it was a great shame for not only the person, but their family and village too.

Kurents dancing (2021) by Marko PigacSlovenian Tourist Board

Organised on every Shrove Sunday for more than 60 years, Kurentovanje is not only the biggest Slovenian carnival, but one of the biggest carnivals in the world!

Kurents in procession (2021) by Marko PigacSlovenian Tourist Board

So it’s great that there’s some devils who make sure that the celebration, procession, and functioning of the groups of Kurents are running smoothly.

In the old days, when doing door-to-door rounds, they liked to steal a sausage or two at homesteads they visited together with Kurents.

Kurents at procession (2021) by Marko PigacSlovenian Tourist Board

With around a 100,000 participants per year, the host town Ptuj has been admitted into the European Federation of Carnival Cities.

Little Kurent (2021) by Marko PigacSlovenian Tourist Board

Despite the changes that time brings, this tradition is deeply rooted in Slovenian culture. And that’s not the only Slovenian tradition at the end of winter.

Check out the beautiful boats of St. Gregory that Slovenians create and send downstream a few weeks later, on St. Gregory’s Day

Credits: Story

Association of Kurent societies 
Kurent danes - v šegah, slovstveni folklori in umetnosti, thesis, Marčič P., University of Maribor, 2010 
Ta norčavi pustni čas, Hieng A., Brezovica pri Ljubljani: Harlekin No.1, 2011. 
Slovenija praznuje: sodobne šege in navade na Slovenskem, Bogataj J., Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga, 2011.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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