When the persimmons, carob, and oranges appear in the market, the holiday season is set to begin with the feast of St. Nicholas, “Sveti Miklavž,” on December 6th. He brings presents to children during the night between the 5th and the 6th of December. He can also visits the home accompanied by angels, who help him carry the presents, and/or Parkelj, the Devil who reprimands them if they have been naughty. If the Devil is displeased, he rattles chains. Cookie figures of St Nick, the Angels and Parkelj are or sale in the open air Christkindle markets throughout the month.
A special bread, called poprtnjak, is made at this time. The bread is covered with a cloth and placed on the table, but it is not eaten until the feast of the Three Kings on January 6, when it is distributed to the children. “Poprt” means under the napkin or cover. In 1644, the first nativity scene was introduced in Ljubljana by the Jesuits. Traditionally, the father of the family would place this nativity scene in a special corner of the house, called “God’s corner,” located above the dining table. The Christmas tree arrived in Slovenia only in the middle of the 19th century from German lands.
Carolling, “koledovanje,” is a tradition where a group of men (koledniki) go from house to house in the village and sing songs or speak greetings without musical accompaniment. Children and women can also take part. This custom brings good luck and is rewarded with small gifts. “Koledovanje” can take place at Christmas, New Years, and the Epiphany. These ritual visits derive from pagan times, when early Slav singers had the same role. The name “koleda” derives from the word calender. In small immigrant settlements in the U.S., this custom took place until the 1960’s and 1970’s. They “koledniki” were mentioned already in the writings of Primož Trubar, author of the first printed Slovene book (1550). The day after Christmas, the Independence and Unity Day, is celebrated in Slovenia since 1991 to commemorate the referendum of December 1990, in which over 95% of voters chose an independent Slovenia. December 26 is also St. Stephen’s Day, when house-to-house visits mark the coming New Year. On December 28, ” Tepežni dan” or “Tepežnica,” children get up early in the morning to gently spank the adults with a hazel rod or switch wishing them health and to get some “rescue” money from the adults as a reprieve from the switching. December 31, New Year’s Eve (Silvestrovo), is also the Feast Day of St. Sylvester, is spent enjoying a festive dinner, celebrating and expecting the arrival of the New Year. In several cities in Slovenia, fireworks are organized to celebrate new beginnings. In some families, Father Frost, “Dedek Mraz,” brings gifts in the night to January 1.
The Festival of the Three Kings or the Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season. On this day, children carry lighted stars from house to house singing carols, and the “poprtnik” is eaten. The Slovenian artist, Maxim Gaspari, immortalized these traditions and country life in his series of folk paintings and illustrations. He was born near Cerknica Lake in Notranjska, near the Castle Sneznik, and later lived in Kamnik in the northern Alpine area… locations that we visit on our Taste of Slovenia Tour. Gaspari used much of the folk motifs from this area in his work. Holiday foods include the traditional potica with walnut filling, klobasa sausages, zolce, and soups. Zolce is a gelatin made from cooking pig bones, adding garlic and spices.
Parts reprinted from “Winter Traditions in Slovenia,” page 3, Republic of Slovenia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Newsletter. December 6, 2013. 9(44).