Scaring winter away with the 2022 Kurentovanje festival

Six more weeks of winter? Not if the organizers of Cleveland Kurentovanje have anything to say about it.

Starting this Sunday, Feb. 20, members the volunteer organization hope to get a head start on spring with its 10th annual weeklong 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.

Rooted in traditional Slovenian culture, Kurentovanje celebrates the changing of seasons. As such, it features several mythological characters who chase off winter spirits and usher in the spring season. Considering the recent cold temperatures and harsh winter storms, Clevelanders are definitely looking forward to warmer weather.

“The event originally started as a Slovenian celebration, but it has evolved in the last 10 years,” says Nicole Kusold-Matheou, an executive committee member. “It really brings our city together and gives us something to celebrate.”

The event went completely virtual last year, in keeping with COVID-19 safety protocols and guidelines. While celebrating in-person would have been preferable, Kusold-Matheou says she was pleasantly surprised at how many people they reached online.

“Of course, an in-person celebration would’ve been awesome, but not nearly as many people would’ve come,” she says. “We even made the event hybrid this year so more people can attend.”

This year, the festival has both online and in-person events. For those interested in learning Slovak or trying their hands at traditional Slovenian cooking, consider attending some of the online workshops. Luka Zibelnik, a Slovenian language instructor at Cleveland State University’s Center for Slovenian Studies, and Lakeland Community College will host  Slovenian Language Crash Course on Sunday, Feb. 20;  While Michelle Ryall, founder of the popular YouTube channel Slovenska Kuhinja, will host Cooking with Cleveland Kurentovanje on Monday, Feb. 21.

If you have a taste for wine, check out the virtual wine taste tasting on Wednesday, Feb. 23. Unlike Italian and French wines, there aren’t as many Slovenian brands available in the States. Brett Philpott-Freeman, president and founder of Grape Intentions, will lead the tour.

All in-person events will be held outside in light of COVID-19 safety concerns. People can gather outside under two large tents. While space heaters and bonfires will be provided, attendees are encouraged to dress in their warmest attire.

“Safety was at the top of our minds,” says Kusold-Matheou. “We want everyone to feel comfortable while celebrating Mardi Gras and Cleveland’s Slovenian culture.”

The celebration gets a kick start on Friday, Feb. 25, when the Kurents come out of their year-long hibernation to scare away winter with the Kurent Jump. Attendees can enjoy the spectacle from the Slovenian National Home’s courtyard while enjoying hearty stew, drinks and music by the Chardon Polka Band.

The traditional Mardi Gras carnival will be held on Saturday, Feb. 26 along East 65th Street. Runners will kick things off at 10 a.m. with the 4th Annual Kurent Dash. Runners can register for the 5K run here. The festival continues following the Dash, with a parade at noon, featuring cultural groups, local organizations, and the Kurenti to highlight Cleveland’s Slovenian heritage. Afterward, revelers can enjoy live performances, authentic dishes, craft beer, and other events.

For a full schedule of events, check out the Cleveland Kurentovanje event page. The festival runs from Sunday, Feb. 20 to Saturday, Feb. 26.

Read more articles by Dana Shugrue.

Dana Shugrue is a graduate of John Carroll University, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Media and Professional Writing. She is a full-time Content Specialist at Budget Dumpster, and part-time freelance writer for FreshWater Cleveland. When she’s not writing, you can catch Dana taking a run through the metros or sipping a latte at her favorite local coffee shop.