The 55th Kurentovanje International Carnival Festival will take place in Ptuj between 2nd and 17th of February 2015. It is the most high-profile carnival event in Slovenia and one of the largest in Europe.

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Pust or Carnival is common to all the nations of Central Europe. Carnival always falls in February or early March, the date is dependent on the day of Easter and is movable. The two major days are Carnival Sunday and Shrove Tuesday. Carnival traditions date back to pre-Christian times, and were continued by the Romans and throughout the Medieval Times, although such celebrations were often sanctioned by the church. Today, it is an integral part of the Christian calendar.

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Kurentovanje stems from a hundred-year-old tradition of celebrating the carnival in the areas of Dravsko and Ptujsko polje. The Ptuj Carnival, called Kurentovanje, is the largest carnival festival in Slovenia and one of the largest in Europe. The 55-year-long tradition of organized events and performances is, among other things, meant to preserve and develop this extraordinary cultural heritage and ethnographic tradition. Kurentovanje lasts for approximately eleven days, starting on Saturday, a week before Shrove Sunday, when the Prince of the Carnival is bestowed the honour of ruling the town during the carnival period and the opening parade of traditional carnival figures and masks fills the streets of Ptuj. Each day features performances of masks and many other types of entertainment. Activities culminate in Saturday’s grand procession of traditional carnival masks, and end on Shrove Tuesday with the burial of Carnival and the return of power to Mayor of the town.

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Kurent (also known as korant) is the central traditional carnival figure in this part of the world. Its origins are still not fully understood, although similar characters can be found in Međimurje (northern Croatia), in the region of Slavonia and Baranja (eastern Croatia) and Bulgaria (Kukeri). In the old days, only unmarried men were allowed to put on the kurent costume, while today anyone, even a woman, a married man or a child, can wear it. The main role that kurents have is to drive away winter and announce the arrival of the spring, fertility, and new life with loud noise and dancing, jumping from side to side and bell-ringing. They were thought to have supernatural powers. In small groups they would visit houses in their village from Shrove Sunday to Ash Wednesday. Houses where Kurents stopped were believed to be lucky throughout the year. In the second half of the 20th century Kurents started coming in big groups to the town of Ptuj to perform and present themselves at Kurentovanje. The first organised procession of traditional carnival masks took place on Shrove Sunday in 1960 and has been organised ever since.

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There are two main types of carnival costumes: the one from around Ptuj have the ears made of turkey or goose feathers and horns made of straw or wood wrapped in leather and decorated with colourful paper flowers and ribbons. The other comes from Haloze and wears genuine cow horns and ears of either sackcloth or leather. Each kurent wears a mask or a cap made from sheep skin, although sometimes rabbit fur is also used. The teeth are made of white beans threaded on a string, the nose is long and trunklike, its moustache is made of maize, and a long red tongue is made of fabric or leather to look as frightening as possible. Kurents usually wear a light coloured sheepskin, although they can sometimes be black. They continually whirl and jump around to sound the five cow bells that they wear fastened around their waists by metal chains. They also wear green or red leg warmers and high boots. In their hands they hold a “ježevka”, a wooden club with hedgehog spikes at the top end which used to serve as a weapon. “Ježevka” is decorated with colourful handkerchiefs which a kurent i given by girls. The kurent with the most handkerchiefs is believed to be the most popular among girls. The greatest disgrace a korant can face is to have his mask taken off.

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A larger group of kurents is always accompanied by at least one devil, who is responsible for the smooth and undisturbed procession. They also always frighten children. A devil wears a red costume made from cloth, the cap he puts on his head is from sheep skin with horns, a pointed nose and a long red tongue. A fishing net is thrown across his back to catch “souls”, and he holds a fork or a trident in his hands.

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Kurent is a mascot, a symbol and an ambassador of Ptuj and the whole of Slovenia. Kurentovanje in Ptuj is not just another festival, but an experience which one remembers forever.

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