A Slovenian Tradition, Kurentovanje Festival Scares Away Winter
By Lexi Hotchkiss
That’s “koo-rahn-toh-VAHN-yay.” Say it again: “koo-rahn-toh-VAHN-yay.”
Okay, now that you can properly pronounce its name, let’s get down to business.
What is Kurentovanje?
Held in Slovenia each year, Kurantovanje is a colorful, ethnically rich festival that joyously bids adieu to winter while ushering in springtime. The festival and parade focuses around the use of traditional Slovenian masks and costumes.
And, to make things a tad livelier, there’s plenty of food, dancing, wine and high-quality merrymaking. Think: Mardi Gras Carnival with an Eastern European flair.
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.
“There’s nowhere else outside of Slovenia that you’ll find anything like this,” Michael Fleming, Executive Director of the St. Clair Superior Development Corporation, says.
“What makes it unique in Cleveland is that it’s not just a Slovenian event here. While the Slovenian culture is really rich in our neighborhood, our event is much more diverse. We welcome ALL cultures,” he says.
What happens during the Cleveland Kurentovanje?
The Cleveland Kurentovanje happens between East 64th St. and St. Clair Ave. on Saturday, Feb. 25, beginning at 11 a.m. In previous years, the event drew as many as 5,000 people, but that number could grow.
Here’s the rundown:
11 a.m.: Start your Cleveland Kurentovanje experience at the Slovenian National Home with a cup of warm coffee and a sweet krofe pastry.
12 p.m.: At noon, the parade kicks off and includes the monstrous Kurents, polka ensembles, marching bands, dance groups and other parading organizations in traditional dress from across Eastern Europe and other countries--an absolutely colorful mishmash that defines the very neighborhood in which it’s held.
1-6 p.m.: Afterwards, the real party begins! Make your way back to the Slovenian National Home, where there’ll be culture aplenty. We’re talking traditional music and dance along with a food-focused craft show in this classic Cleveland hall. Oh, did we mention there’d be beer, too?
6 p.m.-close: By 6 p.m., see if you can still pronounce “Kurentovanje.” If you can, then it’s time to let the party continue at the vintage-y Sterle's Country House and Bier Garden and Goldhorn Brewery on East 55th St., where you can fill up on schnitzel and Old World beer while attempting to learn the polka (it’s not that hard!).
This year, the fun starts early
Want to maximize your Kurentovanje experience? Good.
Kurentovanje now features events over the course of four days.
It all kicks off with a special Slovenian-themed, multi-course feast hosted by Dinner in the Dark and CLE Dinner Club at the Slovenian National Home on Monday, Feb. 20.
Held monthly, Dinner in the Dark is a pop-up charity event 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.
Then, on Tuesday, Feb. 21, the Kurentovanje dedication continues at the Slovenian Museum and Archives where traditional Slovenian Kurentovanje masks will be on display. The exhibition event, which takes place from 6-9pm that evening, features a 45-minute presentation by a curator from the Slovene Ethnographic Museum.
If multi-course meals, historical displays and a parade aren't enough to satisfy your inner Slovenian-style party animal, then get ready for Kurentovanje Eve.
This year, event organizers are holding the The Kurent Jump the night before the festival (Friday, Feb. 24), which is the first time that the Kurents will appear in public for the year.
Get to Goldhorn Brewery (1361 East 55th St.) for this unique ticketed event featuring drinks, appetizers, live music, a special Kurentovanje Pivo (beer) and free tours of the Goldhorn Brewery.
So, what is a Kurant anyway?
The festival is driven by the constant presence of tall, furred and feathered “monsters” (people in costumes) who boast long black beaks, elongated red tongues, belts with huge bells and streamers hung from their winged heads. Listen, you gotta see it to understand it.
The primary function of this massive beast? Scare away winter and welcome spring. For that reason alone, they’re actually quite lovable.
And, as bizarre as these creatures might seem upon first encounter, we here in Cleveland can’t take credit for inventing them. They’re actually ordered directly from Slovenia where their presence is a pre-Lenten tradition.
If the thought of catching a photo with a Kurant isn’t enough to get you to Cleveland Kurentovanje, then here are some other reasons.
First thing’s first: The event will boast food on every level of the Slovenian National Home, as well as a food-focused fair throughout. Seems like a common thread everywhere you go in Cleveland--good food. But, this is the stuff of Slovenian grandmas and recipes passed down through generations.
"You must have a krof, which is traditional Slovenian doughnut made by the nuns and other ladies who attend the neighborhood churches. They are excellent!" Fleming says.
Adding to this wondrous mix of awesomeness is the availability of adult beverages at bars on every level of the Slovenian National Home. If you’re feeling especially festive, consider ordering a shotski log filled with shots of slivovitz (brandy distilled in Eastern Europe).
Fleming also recommends visitors really take time to explore. The Slovenian National Home will have music on various floors, as well as in tents outside with genres ranging from traditional oompah music to local indie tunes.
Tips on 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! Tempt your tastebuds with homemade piergi or a zelodec sandwich (smoked Slovenian meat) from the beloved family-owned Azman’s Meats.
As Fleming says, “This event is a real cultural immersion, so be prepared to see interesting things and try as much food as possible.”
Finally, bring some cash. The Slovenian National Home hosts a food-focused fair where many of these home cooks and artists work in good old-fashioned cash.