The most joyful month of the year is here again, and like every year this is the time for presents, happy and peaceful moments with loved ones, merrymaking, family reunions, and time when we usually look back and see what we have achieved over the year. The majority of people make plans, goals and resolutions for next year, but when the year ends again they usually realize nothing special has changed. In Slovenia, so called »Happy December«, veseli december, starts at the very beginning of December, which is also when the first good man distributes gifts to children.
Three good men
The first good man is called Saint Nicholas, Miklavž in Slovenian, and he brings presents on December 6th to every good child, but parkeljni, or devils, who accompany St. Nicholas, scare those who weren’t that good during the year. Miklavž is more modest – he usually brings some candy, chocolates, fruits and pastry in the shape of »parkelj« (the latter is very popular for St. Nicholas day).
Božiček or Santa Claus originates from the United States, and is the most popular among these three men. He lives in the North Pole and his typical outfit is red and white. He brings presents the night before Christmas, on a Christmas evening (December 24th). He is also more generous than St. Nicholas.
The last one is Dedek Mraz, Father Frost, who distributes gifts on New Year’s Eve, December 31st. He originates from Russia, where he’s called »Ded Moroz«. We made our own outfit for him.
This is a time dedicated to the family, home and many customs. Christmas is the biggest Catholic holiday when Catholics celebrate the birth of Christ. They put up a Christmas tree, božično drevo, decorated with Christmas ornaments, and turn on the fairy lights (a special activity for children). An Advent wreath, adventni venček, usually hangs on the door, but some people also put it on the table (it can include four candles for four Advent Sundays). There is also a nativity scene, called jaslice, and a good festive feast can’t be missed either: there are many types of bread, Christmas cakes, božični kolači, in the shape of a wreath, medenjaki or gingerbread cookies, and of course potica, which people eat on every occasion, not just on special celebrations.
Christians also attend Midnight Mass, polnočnica. On December 24th, there is usually a Christmas dinner, božična večerja, and the next day, on Christmas, božič, people have a traditional Christmas lunch in a family circle. During this time visits are inappropriate.
In the past, especially in the countryside, people went door to door and sang Christmas carols called kolednice. That’s how they wished luck to the families. This custom is rarely seen nowadays.
New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve, in Slovenian called silvestrovo, isn’t a religious celebration, so people usually celebrate the New Year, novo leto, with friends and less formally. As an interesting fact, all holidays are written lowercase in Slovenian, except those which come from a proper name, for example Prešernov dan (Prešeren’s day). Celebrating the New Year abroad has also become very popular among Slovenians. Open-air celebrations are quite popular too recent years in Slovenia, but there are some of us – including myself – who don’t like crowded places and the cold, and prefer to celebrate in a more intimate way.
When we were kids, it was really exciting to put up a fir tree, novoletna jelka, and write home-made Christmas or New Year’s cards. Everything is in a mystical red color, which symbolizes happiness and is present everywhere in this time: tablecloths, candles, ornaments are all in red. For love happiness in the New Year, I heard it is advisable to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve. And for abundance it is good to light a gold candle.
A midnight toast with champagne is generally a must – no matter if you celebrate at home or outside. And if you break a glass by accident, you will be lucky in the coming year. In Slovenia we usually wish each other everything good for the New Year on January 1st or later.
New Year’s good luck charms
There are plenty of talismans, and it is a custom to give them to others this time of the year. They can be just symbolic, not huge ones – many years ago I got a tiny piggy, a wooden ladybug and a horseshoe, and I still carry them around. Lucky charms are very common on Christmas/New Year’s cards too.
Podkev, a horseshoe, is a very common symbol of luck. People usually hang it on the door. There are two ways: it can hang downwards (it protects the house from evil forces) or upwards, like a bowl (it brings happiness to the family).
Here are also a ladybug, pikapolonica, which brings the biggest luck if it lands on our hands, a fly agaric, rdeča mušnica, where reside dwarves and bring us luck, and a 4-leaf clover, štiriperesna deteljica, which is supposed to drive away evil forces and protect people. It is very rare, so if you find it, it means a huge amount of luck. When we were kids we held our buttons and made a wish, when we saw a chimney sweep, dimnikar. This superstition is very old and well-known. The thing is that nowadays it’s very hard to meet them, but in case you do, quickly make a wish. A piggy, prašiček, symbolizes fertility and abundance in the New Year. It is also a very common lucky charm.
In the capital, as in every other Slovenian city, December is especially busy. If you are anywhere around, you are welcome to stop by and enjoy the December festivities. Traditionally there is a big Christmas tree in Prešeren Square with a lot of stalls selling mulled wine, kuhano vino or kuhanček, and hot chocolate. Some festive stalls where they sell all kinds of things are also along the Ljubljanica river.
What I like the most is the smell of a cinnamon which spreads around. The city becomes magical at night because of the Christmas lights. On New Year’s Eve, it is pretty lively in the city center. An open-air celebration is accompanied by a music program and fireworks at midnight from Ljubljana castle.