It’s time to chase away winter with the annual Slovenian Kurentovanje festival

Every year since 2013, Cleveland’s Slovenian community has welcomed Cleveland residents and visitors from around the country to Kurentovanje—a Slovenian style Mardi Gras festival centered around the mythical Kurent, who is believed to chase away winter and usher in spring with its supernatural powers.

While Kurentovanje normally takes place in and around the Slovenian immigrant community in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood, this year the festivities are going, for the most part, virtual starting this Saturday, Feb. 6 and running throughout the week until Saturday, Feb. 13.

The shift to virtual isn’t stopping people from celebrating. Kurentovanje volunteer planning committee member Lauren Calevich says that attendees usually travel to Cleveland from as far away as Minnesota for Kurentovanje, as the Cleveland festival is the only one outside of Slovenia. This year’s event is even larger than last year (which was marked as the biggest year yet) and they expect people to tune in to the virtual events from around the world.

“There’s tons of stuff going on,” Calevich says. “And there’s something for everyone—starting on Saturday.”

This year’s Kurentovanje will feature the traditional events, but Calevich says there’s also a heavy focus on cooking. In fact, Slovenia has been awarded the title of European Region of Gastronomy 2021, which inspired organizers to include many gastronomic and cooking events.

The very first event this Saturday at 11 a.m. is a class on foraging for mushrooms—a popular pastime for many Slovenians (and Clevelanders). “This year, the big thing is cooking,” she says. “And we’re going global.”

Attendees of the virtual presentation will learn about the bountiful range of mushrooms available across the United States and M. Kusold and Luka Zibelnik will discuss the cultural significance of foraging, present some of the easily identifiable mushrooms, and give information on identification tools.

Miro Gnjatic will give insight into his mushroom farm in Kirtland, where he grows and sells mushrooms and growing kits.
The presentation will stream live on Facebook.

Later on Saturday at 3 p.m., Slovenska Kuhinja and the Vocational College of Hospitality and Tourism Maribor (VSGT) will bring the first in a series of three virtual cooking and baking demonstrations. Tune in to watch amateur bakers from across the globe share favorite recipes made from home, while trained chefs from Slovenia demonstrate how to make delicious dishes from their kitchens.

The first presentation will include a “Kitchen Conversation” with the culinary partners, and a baking demonstration of the Slovenian favorite, “Kremšnite” with cookbook author Špela Vodovc
streaming from Slovenia. Register to receive a list of ingredients in advance so you can prepare the recipes as soon as you’re finished watching on Facebook.

The second class on Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. features the all-time favorite, Strudel. This virtual demonstration comes from Canada
straight from the kitchen of Slovenska Kuhinja founder Michelle Pušic Ryall. Register to get the ingredients list and watch on Facebook.

The final class will be on Thursday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. and will feature local Clevelander Mary Kozina-Cupar. Demonstrating how to make the challenging, but delicious Štruklji. Register here and watch on Facebook.

Calevich says there will be a variety of children’s programming available throughout the week, with live craft demonstrations and story time—sharing Slovenian folklore and songs. There will also be cultural, history, and information sessions.

Ongoing events through Sunday, Feb. 7 include the pen pal activity and a matchmaking event.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Kurentovanje without the Kurent jump—where dozens of Kurents emerge from hibernation and jump around a bonfire to chase away winter. The Kurents will stream live on Friday, Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. Calevich says the event normally draws 300 to 400 people, but this year organizers decided to play it safe because of the pandemic.

The festival hits its high point on Saturday, Feb. 13 with a dine-in or carry out dining event hosted by Collision Bend Brewing Company, 1250 Old River Road on the East Bank of the Flats.

Guests can stop into Collision Bend and enjoy food and drinks onsite, or purchase Kurentovanje style foods and drinks to-go. Four-packs of Kurentovanje Pivo—what
Calevich describes as a “light, dry, crisp golden lager brewed with Slovenian hops,” will be for sale and pre-order food options are also available.

All COVID-19 protocols must be observed for anyone on site, says Calevich, including required masks at all times except when seated, social distancing, and no congregating in open areas. “It’s first come, first serve, and if no tables are available, sorry, you’ll have to wait,” she says. “And, we have the takeout option.”

On Saturday, the traditional 5K Kurent Dash will occur virtually—with participants completing the race wherever they choose throughout the month of February. Registration is now open and registrants get a 3rd Annual Kurent Dash long sleeve shirt. Packet and shirt pickups will be on Feb. 13 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Collision Bend Brewing.

Saturday night wraps up Kurentovanje with both live and streaming concerts. The Chardon Polka Band and Bob Kravos & The Boys in the Band will play live from Slovenian National Home, 6417 St. Clair Ave. All COVID-19 precautions will be taken.

Special guest, accordionist Hajime Anzai, “Anže,” a well-known musician in Slovenia, will play live from Japan. Calevich says another popular band will be perform a pre-recorded virtual set from Canada.

Check out the full list of Kurentovanje 2021 events and registration information.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.