Slovenia, a small mountainous land in southeastern Europe, sits at the crossroads between the Slavic, Hungarian and Italian regions. Despite a small territory, its geography is varied, ranging from the Alps in the north, to the Mediterranean coast in the west. The country is home to a wide biodiversity, including the world famous Lipizzaner horses. The official language is Slovenian, although Serbo-Croatian is also spoken, a legacy of the time when Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia. Slovenes, a Slavic ethnic group, constitute over 80 percent of the population, followed by ethnic Serbs and Croats. Two national symbols are the chamois, a shy, antelope-like animal, and the linden tree, the wood of which is used to create elaborate masks for the famed Dreznica Carnival.
Respect for education, evident in the country’s extremely high literacy rate, is part of Slovenian culture, as is Kurentovanje, the rite of spring and fertility that is celebrated for ten days each year at Shrovetide. While parade attendants dress in many costumes, the kurent costumes made of sheep skin are the most traditional in style. They are meant to chase winter away by making noise with the bells attached to their belts. Traditionally worn by unmarried young men, the kurent costumes are nowadays worn also by older men, women or children.
Texttile arts include the weaving of cotton, linen and wool, the making of heavily embroidered costumes and lace-making, which at one time a means of support for many families. This complex art has been practiced since the 17th century in the Idrija region of Slovenia, which is home to the famous Idrija School of Lace that holds a traditional Lace Festival each August. Other traditional handcrafts include wicker weaving, straw weaving, and wood-carving. Beekeeping with the brightly painted beehives unique to the country, and the pisanica, an Easter egg coloured using beeswax are cultural treasures.
Music and the visual arts also have a rich heritage and Slovenes are especially proud of composer Jakob Petelin Gallus-Carniolus. Traditional folk instruments include the accordion, the fiddle, zithers and brass bands, but Slovenia is known particularly for its choral works sung in beautiful rich harmonies.
Slovenes, who were listed as Yugoslavs prior to 1991, have been coming to Canada since the late 1800s, however the numbers were few before 1920. The early groups were missionary priests, followed by farmers and labourers who became miners, railroad workers and tradesmen. Before WWII, the largest Slovenian community was in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, where the first Bled Mutual Benefit Society was formed in 1933. It grew to 13 branches across the country in 1945. Subsequent waves of immigrants included political refugees and men and women seeking employment. They settled mainly in large cities in Ontario, although there are also vibrant Slovenian communities in Montréal and several cities of western Canada. Skilled craftsmen founded their own businesses, professionals established their own practices, and soon cultural and social associations, such as the All-Slovenian Cultural Committee in Toronto, began to emerge. The 2011 census reports there are now over 37,000 Slovenes in Canada.
Sponsor: Annie Kramar Richard | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons