Pustni Karnival

Below the Krns highlands lie picturesque Slovenian villages which are proud of their geographic, historic, cultural and architectural characteristics. The largest of these villages is Dreznica, which has somehow become the center of the valley. The villages above the Kobarid are not well known among visitors to the Posocje, despite the fact that there are a thousand reasons to visit this area.

Among these is certainly the Dreznica carnival which has been preserved even into current times. The locals state that Dreznica carnival-goers danced their wild wedding dance 400 years ago. Characteristic masks with demonic animal wooden faces are still fooling around in Dreznica, spreading ashes and catching naughty people. They are accompanied by an entire matrimonial procession.

The Dreznica masks are carved from linden wood. Some time ago the boys who wished to participate in the carnival had to create their own masks. They carved, sawed and chiseled scary faces, then they painted them with red, white and black colors. On the wooden mask they attached fur and rams’ or goats’ horns, and beside them a pair of jut-out ears.

Before they were allowed to go through the village they had to show their mask to “judges.” If the judges did not like the mask, the boy had to make a new one. Some boys really worked hard before the mask had a satisfactory look. These days the boys leave this work to the experienced men.

Participants in the colorful carnival procession include “the ugly,” who are dressed in furry custumes and wear large cowbells around their waists. Whoever has the heaviest cowbell is labeled “the worst.” They lead the devil, which is hard to tame, on a chain. The devil is adorned all in black; a long tongue hangs from his mouth. The “old man” and the disheveled “old lady” limp through the procession. Their duty is to collect the presents.

The “fat one” is usually so fat that he cannot walk; thus he is hauled around in a wagon. There are a lot of gypsies in the procession, as well as a man who repairs pots and sharpens knives. For this purpose he drags a type of spinning wheel around with him. Besides that he also repairs shoes and is willing to do any kind of work. The “lucky” carries a rooster in a cage and offers lottery tickets. This colorful procession also includes the police soldier.

Of course, the carnival procession also contains the nicely-dressed, “the beautiful,” who wear nice hats from which flutter brightly colored ribbons. The leader of the beautiful wears a cylinder and carries a stick in his hand. Beside him stroll the accordionists who play the Dreznica carnival polka. From afar they announce the arrival of the procession which moves from house to house and stops at every door.

The leader of the beautiful gently knocks on the door. If no one answers, he knocks harder as he becomes more irritated. If the people do not open the door, the carnival participants shout: “Because you closed, you all will die!” The door usually opens.

Once greeted, the homeowner shares a conversation in the Dreznica dialect. The leader of the beautiful attempts to convince the proprietor to let them into the house since his people are happy, honest and without louse and ticks.

With these convincing arguments, the proprietor usually lets them into the house. Only the beautiful, their leader, the accordionists, the “old man” and “the old lady” enter the house. The beautiful dance a dance of ritual meaning which assures health and a good harvest.

While the beautiful dance in the house, “the ugly” remain outside roaring with the devil. They swing a sack full of ashes and hit anyone who they catch. Even visitors don’t have any privileges; sometimes they have to run fast if they don’t want to get ashes all over them.

At the same time “the steal” circle around the house. The police officer has to look after them. If the police catch them in the act, they have to return everything. On Monday, carnival participants make a straw man with a face of “the ugly.” Despite the fact that the straw man is well guarded, sometimes he is stolen.

At midnight on Fat Tuesday there is a lot of noise in the village. The villagers take the straw man to a funeral. In Dreznica they throw him in the stream, hang him or burn him without giving him a sentence. They do not grant a sentence every year, but when they do they discuss the problems in the village over the past year. After the funeral of the straw man, all the problems are forgotten.

The Dreznica carnival is not only an attraction for tourists, but a real village custom which should be preserved for many generations to come.

Igor Fabjan
Rodna Gruda