SMA’s Slovenian Christmas Exhibit
March 7, 2009
Christmas is the most popular religious and family holiday in Slovenia with a long history of veneration and celebration. Slovenian immigrants brought with them the beloved traditions of their homeland and continue to practice many of their age-old customs related to Christmas. Thus, the Slovenian Museum and Archives (SMA) presented a special Christmas exhibit, which featured Sveti Miklavž (St. Nicholas), as well as other Slovenian holiday traditions.
For Slovenians, December is a merry month marked by numerous events celebrated in anticipation of Christmas and New Year’s, many of which are of Catholic origin. The holiday season begins with Saint Nicholas Day on December 6th. On the eve of this holiday, children set out plates, shoes, and other containers expecting to receive small gifts of candies and fruits from Sveti Miklavž. His arrival is accompanied by devils and angels who determine which children are good and deserving of a gift. This tradition remains a vital part of the Slovenian community and is reenacted each year by local Slovenian Schools at St. Vitus and St. Mary Parishes.
In almost all parts of Slovenia, homes were traditionally decorated with a fir or pine tree. It was hung down from the ceiling in the living room, or on a fence in front of the house. Only rarely was the tree placed facing upwards like it is today. If there was any, ornamentation was modest, consisting mostly of colored paper chains, apples, nuts, and cookies.
The Advent season is also a time to set up a nativity scene (jaslice), and no Slovenian home is complete without one. Located in the living room’s bohkov kot (God’s corner), the jaslice is the focus of Christmas prayer and carol singing.
It is customary for Slovenians to light incense on Christmas Eve and sprinkle the rooms with holy water; ancient practices meant to expel demons and bless the home. A Christmas feast follows when the tables are laden with all sorts of traditional delicacies, including potica, a Slovenian nut roll pastry. After dinner, many still attend midnight mass.
It is also common to prepare a ceremonial bread, portnjak, during the holiday season. The bread is covered with a cloth and is placed on a table in the home. However, it is not eaten until the Feast of the Three Kings on January 6th when it is distributed to the children. The Festival of the Three Kings marks the end of the Christmas season, which Slovenians everywhere consider to be a truly hallowed and magical time.
The Christmas exhibit was on display to the public at SMA on November 29, December 7, and December 14, 2008 in conjunction with local Slovenian events. It was well attended, and the children especially enjoyed the gifts of school supplies, candies, and other goodies that they received from Sveti Miklavž.
Special thanks to the following SMA volunteers who generously contributed objects and their time to the Christmas exhibit: Ms. Stephanie Avsenek, Ms. Johanna Bajc, Mrs. Kati Likozar Cup, Mr. Srečo Gaser, Mr. & Mrs. Ivan Hauptman, Rev. John Kumse, Mrs. Olga Merela, Mr. Ed Oshaben, Mrs. Olga Petek, Mr. August Pust, Mrs. Gloria Pust, Mr. Milan Ribič, Mr. Marija Sedmak, Mr. Franc Sever, Mrs. Mojca Slak, Mr. Jože Vegel, Mrs. Marja Vegel, Mr. Edi Veider, Mrs. Ivana Yuko, and Mrs. Zdenka Zakrjšek.
Text written by: Katarina Kirchenbauer
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