All about the Slovenian Carnival celebrations from a Slovenian.
Like every country, my homeland Slovenia also has countless traditions and various local celebrations. One of my favourites is Pust, known as the Carnival in most other European countries, Mardi Gras in French or Fasching in German. Pust time is a time of silliness and fun, particularly beloved by children and those of us who never fully grew up in our hearts. It lasts for several days, during which we dress up in colourful costumes to scare the winter away with our shenanigans, hold Carnival processions and eat lots of doughnuts.
The tradition of Pust dates back to the pre-Christian times and was celebrated by the Romans in a similar form, as they had many carnivals and holidays meant to celebrate the coming of spring and the end of the dark winter months. With the onset of Christianity, the Church did attempt to eradicate Pust and all such traditions, but fortunately failed and was forced to incorporate Pust into their calendar. As a result the Pust Sunday is now held 7 weeks before Easter, i.e. before Lent, the long Christian period of fasting. Since Easter shifts every year depending on the moon cycle, Pust does also.
Pust or Carnival time is a little bit different in every country: in Slovenia the main days are Pust Sunday (Debela nedelja – fat Sunday) and Tuesday, followed by Ash Wednesday. Even within our tiny Slovenia the Pust traditions vary, with several distinct types of traditional costumes or Carnival creatures, all recognised as national heritage. The most famous ones are probably the kurents, large, loud, cow bell wielding creatures dressed in sheepskin with white bean teeth, long red tongues and hedgehog sticks hailing from the Ptuj region.
Whoever thought of kurents probably assumed winter needed a really good scare to vacate the lands. I guess the other parts of Slovenia agreed, as the next Pust creatures are laufarji from Cerkno, a group of 25 weird, furry, mossy and leafy creatures with masks made of linden tree wood. Laufarija is the collective name of the Carnival festivities in that region, which begin on the first Sunday after the New Year, with the appearance of the first laufar. All of them appear by Pust time and the main Laufarija character is Pust himself in a giant mossy suit, who is accused of causing every minor or major misfortune that occurred within the region in the past year. He is then sentenced to death in the main square and promptly executed, so that spring can enter the lands.
In most parts of Slovenia an effigy of Pust is also ceremoniously burnt on Ash Wednesday, which concludes the Carnival time. However, there is also another major Pust creature I haven’t covered yet: the infamous Ursula the witch from Cerknica. During Pust time, Cerknica transforms into the fictional town of Butale, from the famous Slovenian Fran Miličinski’s tales. In his stories about Butalci, the adorably dumb and narrow-minded residents of Butale, Miličinski painted a satirical picture of the small town mentality and human nature. His works became incredibly popular allover Slovenia and are (unfortunately) still very relevant today.
So, during Pust time, Cerknica becomes Butale in the flesh, they even transfer the city authority to the Carnival mayor until Ash Wednesday. However, to ensure good weather for their festivities, they have to make a deal with the local witch clan’s matriarch, Ursula, who joins them for the Pust procession every year. She of the giant cucumber nose with a wart has been known in those parts since before the 17th century, when the famous Slovenian historian and polymath J.W.F. v. Valvasor wrote about the witches from Slivnica (a place above Cerknica) in his book about the history and natural life of the Carniolan region, which later became the modern-day Slovenia.
Traditions and folklore aside, most of us celebrate Pust by dressing up in more or less imaginative costumes, eating too many fried doughnuts and going out for the processions or parties. Pust time is never boring and I love seeing the crazy creative ideas that people come up with, as some of them invest quite a lot of effort into it. During the school years, most of us even attend our classes in costumes on Pust Tuesday and some people even do it at their workplace, if permitted.
Since I am an overgrown child myself, I try to dress up for Pust every year, even if I do end up with last minute costumes most of the years. You can see some of my and my friends’ more recent attempts below. In the past years I have been a snail, a man, an aquarium, a witch, the Po Teletubby and an improvised 60s-80s disco queen a couple of times. My most recent Pust costume was the bear suit from 2019, when my friend and I managed to take some epic photos.
Some of my Pust costumes over the years
P.S.: Dear Slovenian friends, send me your best Pust costumes, I’ll add them. 🙂