The Slovenia Times

Vestiges of Christmas Past



For example, one of the tasks I had to do in my current incarnation as a marketing-type person for a Slovene company was to oversee the design and development of this year's Christmas card. Except it wasn't a Christmas card but a New Year card! Equally across Slovenia Srecno 2006 lights and decorations adorn public buildings including, sadly, Bled's historic castle. Similarly the most common greeting at this time of year besides Srecno Novo Leto is Vesele Praznike (Happy Holidays) rather than Vesele Bozicne (Happy Christmas). So what you might ask? After all the celebration of New Year is a common feature across the world, from New York's Times Square, to Scotland's annual drinking binge that is Hogmany. True, but what interests me about this in Slovenia is the extent to which this focus on New Year represents the lingering echo of Communist Yugoslavia. Hold on; before I am greeted with howls of protest from Slovenes let me clarify. Before the Communists came to power after the Second World War Slovene traditions focused, like most of Central Europe, on Christmas and St Nicholas Day on December 5th. With victory in 1945 the Communist elite, in its campaign against the Catholic Church and Christianity, officially banned the public celebration of Christian holidays, including Christmas. However simply banning such celebrations was not enough to break the popular hold these traditions had and so, following the example of the Soviet Union, the Yugoslav authorities opted to assimilate and absorb December's festivities into the cultural paraphernalia of socialist realism and the cult of the worker. In the Soviet Union the Bolsheviks had shifted the focus of the season from Christmas to New Year with the Christmas tree becoming the New Year's Fir and St Nicholas becoming Father Frost (Ded Moroz). In Communist Yugoslavia the main working holiday was likewise switched to the end of the year, to coincide with New Year, and Ded Moroz was adopted as Dedek Mraz. Dedek Mraz who 'originally' lived in Siberia is surprise, surprise an old man with a big white beard who brings gifts to children who have been good. Of course the machinations of geo-politics intervened and in 1948 Yugoslavia broke with the Soviet Union. Following the bitter political and ideological recriminations and rhetoric that flew between Belgrade and Moscow in the aftermath of this it no longer became politically acceptable for Father Frost to come from Siberia and so like some cultural refugee, Dedek Mraz was given asylum and re-housed on the slopes of Triglav (or the Pohorje Massif as someone from Maribor once corrected me). Furthermore in the same way that Haddon Sundblom re-worked St Nicholas for Coca Cola, the Slovene postcard illustrator Maksim Gaspari reworked the image of Dedek Mraz to make him appear more Slovene, clothing him, for example, in doormouse fur. However beginning with the appointment of Alojzij Sustar as archbishop of Ljubljana in 1980, the campaign for the restoration of Christmas gathered momentum culminating in the rehabilitation of both St. Nicholas and Christmas following the collapse of communism and independence in 1989. I guess the point of all this is that I am struck by how, 16 years after independence, some cultural vestiges of the old regime remain. Given the comparative ease with which Slovenia rejoined the European family, embraced democracy, and become integrated into the global capitalist economy, I find something both anachronistic and intriguing, curious and charming about this phenomenon. Will this last? How long can Dedek Mraz survive against his corporate-clad American cousin, Santa Claus, in today's modern consumerist reality? Well I don't know but I'm not optimistic about his chances and wouldn't be surprised if in another 16 years he has been forced to accept the reality of economic restructuring and taken early retirement to his home in Triglav, Maribor or even his Russian dacha in Siberia. For now however Slovene parents have to decide whether their children will get presents once, twice or three times during 'Happy December' while the rest of us prepare for the fireworks and festivities of January 1st. Merry Christmas and Srecno Novo Leto.


More from Nekategorizirano