The 11-day rite of spring and fertility is most likely connected to Slovene mythology and Slavic Paganism. The original organisers were strongly convinced that this event could help prevent what they perceived as the extremely rapid disappearance of traditional carnival customs in the area.
The Museum at Ptuj Castle houses a large collection of traditional Kurentovanje masks and costumes. We were lucky enough to visit and learn more about this fascinating tradition and it’s costumes.
The carnival begins precisely at midnight on the 2nd February, Candlemas, from one of the most rural suburbs of Ptuj. For this event the Kurents are equipped relatively simply with a chain and five bells and a wooden club (a Jezevka) with real hedgehog spikes at the top end. They start to dance thus announcing the beginning of the festival. From this moment on the Kurents are “allowed” to make their habitual rounds, consisting of collecting colourful handkerchiefs from girls that then decorate the Jezevka. The Kurent with the most handkerchiefs is believed to be the most popular with the girls.
The party of Kurents is usually accompanied and led by a devil either dressed completely in black or red and covered in a net to help catch lost souls. The Devil’s role is to lead the party of Kurents from house to house scaring off evil spirits and collecting gifts in a basket.
Different and ancient customs prevail throughout the villages; before the Kurent arrives at the house the housewife throws a pot from the attic to the first person who visits her during the day. According to an old belief this will help the hens to lay eggs.
The Ploughman is the next most popular character and also partakes in one of the most important rituals - the ploughing of the defensive magic circle around the village, and the solemn ploughing of the first furrow to announce the beginning of work in the fields.
During the 11-day festival the Prince of the carnival is bestowed the honour of ruling the town. Activities culminate on the Saturday before Shrove Sunday with the procession of traditional carnival masks and the return of power to the Mayor of the town.
Over the years the festival has grown, with many surrounding towns in the region also contributing. In 2013 the largest population of Slovenians outside of Slovenia, in Cleveland, Ohio, have started to run a smaller Kurentovanje event.
For more information about the carnival and it’s characters please visit http://www.kurentovanje.net/en/