Annual Slovenian Festival Chases Away Winter and Ushers in Spring starting February 10
By Denise Koeth, Image by by Andy Wrobel
Before we begin, here's a pronunciation primer:
Say it aloud: “koo-rahn-toh-VAHN-yay.”
Go ahead; we'll wait while you say it again: “koo-rahn-toh-VAHN-yay.”
Okay, now that you can properly pronounce Kurentovanje, let’s get the party started.
Held in Slovenia each year, Kurentovanje is a colorful, ethnically rich festival that joyously bids adieu to winter while ushering in springtime. The festival and parade center around the use of traditional Slovenian masks and costumes.
But you don't have to travel overseas to experience it: just head to Cleveland Feb. 5 and pre-game during the week long festivities up through the main festival on Feb. 10. There will of course be plenty of food, dancing, booze, and high-quality merrymaking. Think: Mardi Gras Carnival with an Eastern European flair.
The festival is driven by the constant presence of Kurants: tall, furred and feathered “monsters” who boast long black beaks, elongated red tongues, belts with huge bells and streamers hung from their winged heads.
The primary function of these massive beasts? Scare away winter and welcome spring. For that reason alone, they’re actually quite lovable.
As bizarre as these creatures might seem upon first encounter, we here in Cleveland can’t take credit for creating them. They’re actually imported directly from Slovenia, where their presence is a pre-Lenten tradition.
In 2013, the St. Clair Superior neighborhood adopted the Slovenian celebration right here in Cleveland. If you didn’t know, Northeast Ohio is home to the largest population of Slovenians living outside of Slovenia. Cleveland even houses a Slovenian Consulate. So, the decision to host such an event was a no-brainer.
Here’s the rundown:
10 a.m.: Doors open at the Slovenian National Home. Come early for kids' crafting and face-painting in anticipation of the parade. Food, drinks and shopping also will be available.
Noon: The parade kicks off and includes the monstrous Kurents, polka and marching bands, dance troupes and other parading organizations in traditional dress from across Eastern Europe. The parade departs from the Goldhorn Brewery, proceeds down East 55th to St. Clair Ave., and ultimately ends at the Slovenian National Home.
1-6 p.m.: Afterward, the real party begins. Plan to stay a while at the Slovenian National Home, where you’ll find culture aplenty. Enjoy ethnic food and drinks, free face-painting and crafts for kids, ice carving demonstrations, and multiple stages of musical acts and cultural performances. There's also a food-focused craft show. And beer. Lots of beer.
There will be after-hours fun at nearby bars, breweries and restaurants, so be sure to save room for still more beer.
A Week of Events
The Kurentovanje fun starts early, with several events taking place in the days leading up to the festival:
Monday, Feb. 5: Dinner in the Dark
A Kurentovanje-inspired dinner presented by Dinner in the Dark and the CLE Dinner Club, benefiting Cleveland Kurentovanje. The feast, at the Slovenian National Home, features a multi-course menu with Slovenian wine pairings.
Held monthly, Dinner in the Dark is a pop-up charity event that features a totally one-of-a-kind mash-up of local chefs prepping creative menus (with adult beverages) in unique, historic and/or inspiring CLE locations.
Wednesday, Feb. 7: Slovenian Museum and Archives
The Kurentovanje dedication continues at the Slovenian Museum and Archives, where traditional Slovenian Kurentovanje masks will be on display. The exhibition event features a presentation by a curator from the Slovene Ethnographic Museum, from which the Cleveland exhibition is on loan.
Friday, Feb. 9: Kurent Jump and Bocce Tournament Kick-off
Kurentovanje Eve is when things start to get lively and marks the first time that the Kurents will appear in public for the year--bells ringing loudly as they dance around a bonfire, initiating their mission of chasing away winter to make way for spring. Get to Skidmark Garage (5401 Hamilton Ave.) for this unique ticketed event featuring drinks, appetizers and live music.
Cleveland Kurentovanje, in partnership with the Cleveland Bocce Club, will hold the second annual Kurentovanje Bocce Tournament at the Slovenian National Home. The tournament begins on Friday and continues on Saturday, Feb. 10.
Tips for Visiting Kurentovanje
It can be a little chilly in Cleveland in February (SURPRISE!), so our first piece of advice is to dress warmly.
Secondly, be ready to eat! The event boasts food on every level of the Slovenian National Home, as well as a food-focused fare throughout. It's no ordinary menu, though--this is the stuff of Slovenian grandmas and recipes passed down through generations.
Finally, bring some cash. Many of these home cooks and artists work in good, old-fashioned cash.
For updates on bands and other information on Cleveland Kurentovanje, visit clevelandkurentovanje.com or follow on Facebook at facebook.com/ClevelandKurentovanje. Information is also available from the St. Clair Superior Development Corporation.