Pust is a pagan holiday that is celebrated in Slovenia in the beginning of every February. Designed to scare away the winter cold, this festival is mounted to celebrate the coming of Spring. Young men are the main arbiters of some of the festival’s central traditions, as they don terrifying masks and large suits made of animal furs. Most of the masks represent different characters that recur in Slovenian folklore which are generally localized to particular regions, the principle character being called the “kurent.” [the informant could not offer any more examples of such characters and what they represent.] These costumes are paired with belts from which hang many cowbells, and the young men enter the center of the village in a procession of aggressive dancing and grunting. The idea behind this is to scare away the dark, evil spirits of Winter, in the hopes that Spring will bring good tidings and a prosperous year of harvest. Pust usually takes place in the rural villages of northern Slovenia, the Gorenjska region especially.
More modern exhibitions of this festival in different parts of Slovenia allow all children to participate and go door to door begging for candy and money, much like at Halloween in other parts of the world.
Born and raised in former Yugoslavia, what is now known as Slovenia, the informant was continuously exposed to folk traditions that originated and permeated this region. The festival is a kind of protective ritual to ensure a short winter. It is riddle with celebratory symbols of dominance and fertility. For example, the suits are made from the pelts of animals these young men had killed, demonstrating their capability of providing for the well-being of the village.
On the midsummer solstice, or the Eve of St. John, fires are lit and maidens wear wreaths in their hair to celebrate the longest day of the year.
My informant first attended this festival with her family as a little girl, and mostly remembered the beautiful wreaths all of the girls would wear in their hair. She was also able to recall the many fires that were lit and that the men in attendance would jump across them. Also, those in attendance would stay out all day without sleeping to celebrate the length of the day and to appreciate the sunshine. At the end of the festival, all of the girls will throw their wreaths into the fires.
One of the most interesting aspects of this festival is that the different flowers worn in a girl’s wreath have different meanings. My informant remembers wearing white roses, which she remembers symbolized simplicity and purity. Perhaps the most significant flowers worn in the wreaths were lavender and myrtle, and they both represent love. If a girl wears one of these flowers in her wreath, throws her wreath into the fire and the burning wreath is thrown into the river and recovered by a single man, the girl would be said to be engaged to that man, by tradition. Symbolically, this union represents the birth of a new relationship, and the longer days are conducive to this birth.
This festival is uniquely Polish and has been celebrated for more than a thousand years. While mostly celebrative in the native Poland, my informant knows several Poles in other countries that also celebrate the Eve of St. John’s and she believes it’s, “because it’s romantic to look back on one’s culture.”