The Supernatural Sheep of Slovenia’s Door-to-Door Carnival

To bring spring, hundreds of hirsute revelers roam the country’s villages.

If spring is nigh, and hordes of people are roaming around in sheep costumes making lots of noise, it’s a safe bet you’ve found yourself at Kurentovanje in Ptuj, in northeastern Slovenia. This annual rite of spring carnival begins 11 days before Ash Wednesday—and if you’re in the area, you’ll know.

The core of the carnival consists of groups of Kurenti—folks wearing gigantic sheepskin costumes—going door to door at local homes, forming circles around the residents, and jumping around, shaking sticks adorned with hedgehog skins. The point is to make enough noise to chase away the remnants of winter and other associated evil spirits.

“In fact, it is a special feeling of power and some kind of supernatural energy,” says one participant in a UNESCO video about the festival. “When you put your cap on you somehow go through a certain transformation from the ordinary man to a true Korant [Korent], a supernatural being.” It is a transformation one may make many times in one’s life: Many begin participating with the Kurenti as young children, only to subsequently bring their own children and grandchildren into the fold.

Though Kurentovanje is now a multigenerational phenomenon, and was inscribed in 2017 to UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, it is in fact a fairly recent arrival in Ptuj. Though the festival draws on the Kurenti—old folkloric figures—the first organized iteration took place only in 1960. Local historian Drago Hasl was eager to find a way to preserve folk traditions, which found themselves under threat from modernization. He succeeded: Just ask any of the Ptuj residents who answer their doors and are surrounded by spring-bearing sheep.

Marko Klinc fixes a Kurent costume in his workshop. Sheepskins are used for the handmade coats and masks.
Marko Klinc fixes a Kurent costume in his workshop. Sheepskins are used for the handmade coats and masks.
A Kurent and the devil behind him received handkerchiefs at homes they visited in the village of Zabovci.
A Kurent and the devil behind him received handkerchiefs at homes they visited in the village of Zabovci.
A group of Kurenti from the village of Zabovci passes a group wearing Donald Duck costumes before the village parade.
A group of Kurenti from the village of Zabovci passes a group wearing Donald Duck costumes before the village parade.
Hundreds of Kurenti from all over Slovenia descend on Ptuj for the traditional International Carnival Parade.
Hundreds of Kurenti from all over Slovenia descend on Ptuj for the traditional International Carnival Parade.
A Kurent holds a drink during his door-to-door rounds. Traditionally, only unmarried men were allowed to wear the Kurent costume, but not all residents can participate in festivities.
A Kurent holds a drink during his door-to-door rounds. Traditionally, only unmarried men were allowed to wear the Kurent costume, but not all residents can participate in festivities.
Kurenti enter the Slovene national parliament in the capital Ljubljana, as they do every year to bring good fortune and secure pledges of government support for festivities.
Kurenti enter the Slovene national parliament in the capital Ljubljana, as they do every year to bring good fortune and secure pledges of government support for festivities.
On the last day of the carnival period, the Carnival mask is burned and buried.
On the last day of the carnival period, the Carnival mask is burned and buried.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.