If you’re planning to celebrate Christmas in Slovenia, you’re in for a treat. While Slovenes celebrate Christmas Day like the entire world, they enjoy a lot of holidays. Their habits, customs, and events are a must-see all year for locals and tourists alike.
Christmas holidays in Slovenia last a little more than a month, working out one of Europe’s longest celebrations. Events start as early as the last few days of November and last until the first week of January. Their customs and traditions make the entire holiday season enjoyable.
Are you looking to enjoy your holiday season in Slovenia? Here’s everything you should expect from the Christmas Holidays in Slovenia, from the habits, customs, and events you should expect.
The History of Christmas in Slovenia
Much of Christmas is a religious gathering for most of Slovenia. A good chunk of Slovenes are Catholics or at least grew up in a Catholic or Christian denomination. Much of the Christmas traditions in the country follows how most Europeans observe Christmas.
In general, December in Slovenia is a period of generosity and gift-giving. It’s also a time for Slovenes to relax, come together with friends and family, and enjoy a better company. Slovenes are trying to revive old traditions, starting during the winter.
As we know, Christmas was not originally a Catholic holiday but rather stemmed from the integration movement that the Catholic church did as it spread. The holiday came even before the spread of Christianity in Europe when pagans celebrated Winter Solstice.
Winter Solstice was the event where one of the Earth’s poles go at its maximum tilt. This event made the days longer, which the pagans believed is a sign of “good” and triumph over “evil.”
As Catholicism spread, Christmas became a holiday that allowed the integration of pagans into the fold. It helped ease their conversion from their paganism to Catholicism. The case was the same in Slovenia.
Every winter solstice, Slovenians and Slavic people, in general, celebrated the birth of Svarožič. Svarožič is the son of Svarog and the personification of the young Sun. The Slavic people called him Božič, which is now the Slovenian word for Christmas.
Centuries into it, many Slavs converted into Catholicism. They now started celebrating the holiday as Catholics do all over the world.
Slovenia Did Not Celebrate Christmas Before
Christmas on December 25 itself was initially not a common holiday in Slovenia. The day itself is a relatively renewed tradition due to the existence of socialism in the country for many years. During the times of the socialist movement, Christmas was not a common celebration.
The Christmas Day itself only came to the Slovenian psyche during the turn of the 20th century. The Germans introduced the concept, which was gladly accepted by the people of Slovenia.
The event was abolished in 1953, around the reign of Josip Broz Tito. The holiday only reinstituted in 1991, during a time when Slovenia decided on its independence.
Instead, the Slovenians celebrated two festivities still enjoyed today. These are Miklavž or St. Nicholas Day and Dedek Mraz or Grandpa Frost. These are two separate events that good Slovenian children love.
Saint Nicholas is known to give small gifts to children every 6th of December. Grandpa Frost, on the other hand, delivers his presents on New Year’s Eve. These days, Slovenia is now in the same vein as the rest of the world when celebrating Christmas.
Starting Holiday Festivities in Slovenia
The December leading to Christmas is a crucial time for Slovenians. Slovenia starts its festivities at the end of November to early December, depending on when the first Advent Sunday begins for the year. During this time, the most important event that signifies the season’s start is the Christmas Lights Switch-On event.
The Switch-On event is a much-awaited time period where Slovenes gather around Ljubljana and Maribor and turn-on their Christmas lights. In Ljubljana, the local government holds it at Preseren Monument at the central town square.
The Turn-On Festival denotes the start of the holidays, illuminating the center of the Slovenian Capital. People can then enjoy some night shopping or tasting some mulled wine.
Among the many holiday traditions, Slovenians follow mostly religious traditions. For starters, Slovenians observe the four Sundays of Advent before Christmas. These Advents involve families going to Church and enjoying shopping afterward.
Unlike most of the northern hemisphere, Slovenia tries to prevent having significant events during this season. There are no major events in local towns or villages, including marriages. They tend to clear their schedules to allow more time for families.
You can also expect homes to decorate their windows and doors with Christmas wreaths. They will have four candles for each Advent Sunday, lighting it up as soon as Church ends. The four candles symbolize the light that announces the birth of Christ.
If you have Slovenian friends or locals near you, you’ll likely see traditional families plant wheat grains until Christmas. By planting some in a planter, it symbolizes the hope and life force within the family, bringing positive luck into the home.
Miklavž and Saint Nicholas Day
Once the Christmas Switch On event happens in Slovenia, the first Christmas event for Slovenes is the Miklavž on December 5 or 6. As we said, this is known to be the feast of Saint Nicholas, who will start visiting good children.
Good children with good behavior will start receiving rewards. These gifts will come in the form of toys, food, or money, in appreciation of the children’s good deeds. As we know, naughty children will meet somebody else.
During Miklavž, naughty children can expect a visit from Parkelj, known as Krampus, outside of Slovenia. Parkelj usually leaves a cane or a sock of coal to children. The cane used to symbolize the authority he gives to parents to punish naughty children.
During this time, Miklavž will show up in schools and events all over Slovenia. Depending on the locale, neighborhoods will even have a grotto where children can sit on Miklavž knee. Over the years, Miklavž has integrated into the generic Santa Claus figure that Americans know.
People wearing brown Miklavž costume or red Santa Claus outfits will be on the streets. Children will likely enjoy the sight if they witness it for sure.
On the eve of Miklavž Day or Feast of St. Nicholas, it’s tradition to put baskets or plates on the window ledge or table. During this time, children will also receive small gifts, usually food that they can enjoy. These can be anything from walnuts, biscuits, pastries, to dried fruits.
For most Slovenians, Miklavž is the most important day of the year. Depending on how traditional the family is, Miklavž tends to be the center of the Slovenian tradition, but Christmas is gaining firm ground.
The Days After Miklavž
The tradition of planting wheatgrass is an event that happens on the next nearest festivity after Miklavž Day. This is either the Feast of St. Barbara on December 4 or Saint Lucia on December 13. The event varies depending on the region, but the festivities are generally the same.
During this time, the Slovenes expect the wheatgrass to symbolize their prosperity in the coming year. This event is known by many names, depending on where you live in Slovenia.
In Gorenjska, it is known as the Christmas grain. The people of Štajerska call it the “sprouted grain” while the denizens of Dolenjska call it “wheat.” The most dramatic name comes from Bela Krajina, which calls it the “eternal life.”
By around this time, Slovenians will start placing decor in their homes. This is where families will start decorating their homes with the Nativity, Advent wreaths, and evergreen branches.
Sveti večer: Christmas Eve
After The Feast of Saint Barbara or Lucia, the next most significant event is Christmas Eve. Slovenes call this time as Sveti večer or (holy Eve). This is when families will light three candles, each representing the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost of the Trinity.
These candles will go into their wheatgrass and offer a warm glow. These candles will symbolize each persona’s soul, and the Christmas tree will receive its first decoration if the family has not added the decor just yet.
Like most European countries, most families and friends celebrate the 24th together with a special meal. Depending on the family, they will have some mulled wine as the beverage of choice. For the dishes, several types of meat and pastries will be available.
Roast meats like turkey is a staple food, including pastries like potica and Christmas Fruit Bread or Božični kruh. Božični kruh comes from the stollen or the Weihnachtsstollen from German traditions.
During this time, families will have several activities, depending on how modern they are. Olden families usually attend a midnight mass and then will sleep off after the event. Some families in farther locales of Slovenia will not even attend mass and won’t celebrate Christmas.
More modern families will attend mass, then start exchanging gifts. Gift exchange is a newer part of the holiday tradition for Slovenians. Some will do it, while others won’t. Some families will be extravagant with their gifts, while others will only give small trinkets and baubles.
For those visiting Slovenia around this time, people can expect a good chunk of restaurants and services closed. Some shops open half day on the 24th and closed on the 25th as a sort of rest day.
Enjoying Christmas Day
Christmas itself in Slovenia is not a very eventful day. Many people usually visit friends and family during this time, usually going out to do some sort of family activity.
For example, families may go skiing or hiking and even start the day early by biking. Smarna Gora is one of the best places to visit around this time if there isn’t a light blizzard. During this time, Castle Hill will also be open and would look beautiful.
The next day, December 26, will continue to be a public holiday due to Independence and Unity Day. Many smaller businesses will close down, but most major chains will be open for people celebrating the holidays.
In some regions of Slovenia, an old tradition is still being celebrated by families everywhere. Christmas Eve is also called badnik in areas of the Bela Krajina region; the entire event derived from a yule log.
The badnik is a big tree stump kept burning through the night. The tradition was a mark of solstice during the years of paganism in Slovenia. The stump brought light to the year’s darkest night and comforted the people around it.
New Year’s Eve In Slovenia
Christmas traditions in Slovenia do not end with December 25th. New Year’s Eve and New Year are as big as a deal in Slovenia, and the holiday season extends until January 5th, a day before the Three Kings Day.
Around New Year’s Eve, some families reserve the tradition of Dedek Mraz or Grandpa Frost. When they do, this is the time where they exchange gifts with each other.
Before independence, the commercial Santa Claus was not something known to Slovenians. During the years under Yugoslavia, the government frowned upon all religious and commercial celebrations. The authorities did not outright ban them, however.
Dedek Mraz was a celebration of Ded Moroz, a Russian communist figure. Dedez Mraz was originally a pagan tradition coming from Eastern Slavs. Even then, it became a part of Russian communist society as a replacement for western holidays.
The myths surrounding Grandpa Frost are almost the same as Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus. Unlike Santa, however, Grandpa Frost gave the gifts upfront to children.
As Slovenia seceded, Miklavž and Santa returned to the Slovene psyche. Even then, Grandpa Frost was not discarded, but instead added as part of the “Three Good Men.”
Christmas Traditions In Slovenia
Many also spend more time with New Year’s Eve parties. Slovenians are well-known for spending more on their New Year’s Eve parties, usually spending them with relatives, friends, and even neighbors.
On the morning of New Year’s Day, men would need to be the first visitors to a house. Women were not allowed to step in first, as old traditions say it will bring misfortune.
Farmers would also need to shake the snow off each tree they own for it to bear a good harvest. The tradition also happens for people who own yards, removing it from their hedges and gardens.
On the eve of Three Kings’ Day in Slovenia, families would come together. They would bless their home with both incense and water. A common practice is to write the initials of the three kings between the new year, i.e., 20GMB21.
The inscription itself would need to stay above the door until the next year. Festivities finish once the female head of the house opens the bins in the granary. The woman would then sift through and find the best grains for seed.
Christmas Decorations In Slovenia
Now that we know all the Christmas holidays in Slovenia, let’s look at some of the usual customs around the Holidays. Among the first, we can take a look at are the Christmas decor, which is among the unique parts of a Slovenian Christmas.
The creation of the Nativity scene is one of the biggest Christmas decor traditions in the country. The custom goes back a few hundred years before most of Slovenia’s modern history.
The Nativity scene inside the home is among its most common iteration in Slovenia. Even then, more and more locales, including homes with front yards, are adding publicly viewable Nativity decor.
In Slovenia, the most famous Nativity scenes are at two locations. The first of these is at Ljubljana’s Franciscan Church on Prešeren Square (Cerkev Marijinega oznanjenja). The second is found in Postojna Cave in Postojna.
Visiting the best Nativity scenes in Slovenia is a small pilgrimage in itself. The Postojna Nativity scene lets you ride a little train, bringing you inside the cave. Angels will guide you through the cave formations, which feels like a spiritual event.
Once inside, the visitors will see up to 16 biblical scenes that relate to the birth of Jesus Christ. As many as 150 people will be there, playing traditional roles for a certain period of time.
In Ljubljana, the Christmas Switch-on event also illuminates the beautiful Nativity scene at Prešeren Square. The lights make the scene more beautiful than ever. If you want Nativity scenes with far fewer crowds, Mojstrana has an annual living nativity scene in the woods.
Christmas Trees and Trinkets
Christmas trees receive decorations in Slovenia, especially the ones inside the home. In the olden times, families decorated trees with homemade decor. Many families used evergreen decorations like wreaths and fir. Now, many use commercial Christmas tree decor due to its ease.
Many families add trinkets and baubles to their trees. They also add Christmas lights that make the tree seem more alive. Families like to add their favorite cutout Christmas characters and many dazzling lights.
Cities like Ljubljana and Maribor in the Christmas season will have many breathtaking Christmas lights all around. They will adorn many of the city streets and even the banks near the bridges. You can find many buildings near the Dragon Bridge and Cobbler’s Bridge adorned with beautiful, gentle lights.
Slovenians also like to add an advent wreath on their tables during Christmas. These are usually handmade from evergreen branches, and some families even make it from moss. Around the entire season, Slovenians keep it well adorned and decorated.
You can expect Slovenian Christmas tables to have candles, fruits, and other simpler decorations. Much of these signify prosperity within a Slovenian family and the wish for more good in the coming seasons.
Christmas Food in Slovenia
Christmas is never complete in Slovenia without talking about Christmas food. One of the much-awaited events of the holiday season are the types of seasonal traditional Slovene foods. These tend to be available in the Christmas markets and one families’ tables.
December is among the most tempting array of seasonal Slovenian treats. You’ll see that almost every food seller will have these fares, from your average hawker to your big Ljubljana restaurant.
Christmas Pastries in Slovenia
For starters, the traditional potica or rolled cake is the crown jewel of a Slovenian Christmas. Potica is a rolled, round cake with various fillings, from nuts, walnuts, bananas, cocoa, coconut, and more.
As we noted before, the Božični kruh or Christmas fruit bread was among the oldest Slovenian traditions. In the past, women gathered around the kitchen and worked towards baking three loaves of Božični kruh. They would then set up the table and recreate the Nativity scene with pasta.
Following this tradition, the families would need to eat the three loaves on three different dates. Families would need to share the first loaf on Christmas, as a symbol of sharing. They would then eat the second on New Year’s Eve, and the third on the Eve of Three Kings’ Day.
Another Slovenian favorite are Bundt cakes, usually made with walnuts and raisins. Gingerbread and cinnamon cookies also come as a treat for children and those with a sweet tooth.
Some older traditions also made three types of bread, mostly during the pre-Christian years of Slovenia. These loaves of bread usually consisted of buckwheat, wheat, and rye, which are the most common grains in Slovenia.
Regional Christmas Meals and Drinks
Many Christmas dishes in Slovenia apart from bread tend to be regional in nature. Every city has its own Christmas tradition, but some have spread throughout the land.
In general, families love to have pečenka or a pork roast for Christmas Eve. The typical pečenka is a pork loin with skin on, then roasted on spices and cooked with hardy vegetables.
Together with pečenka, grilled or roasted turkey is a common part of Christmas dinner. Some families have mulled wine or Slovenian wine available for consumption. Some families even share cookies before dinner as an appetizer.
In the absence of turkey, the goose is also available, together with game or fish. Urban Slovenians prefer codfish with potatoes. Rural Slovenians tend to go for more traditional cooking, including black pudding, sauerkraut, and Kranjska Klobasa.
A typical side dish is porridge or steak tartare. For other desserts, figs in chocolate are expected, together with dried fruits like raisins, plums, and apricots. Slovenians also have a growing love for Panna Cotta, usually made of yogurt and cream.
Mulled wine is the most famous Christmas beverage in Slovenia. The holiday season is never complete without mulled wine, and hawkers start selling it right after St. Martin’s Day in November. If you’re visiting Slovenia’s Christmas stands, expect a ton of mulled wine sellers.
Other regional dishes include various fritters and dried cod, common in Primorska. Fruit bread is common in Styria/Štajerska too.
Christmas Shopping in Slovenia
Christmas in Slovenia is never complete without shopping options. Shopping around for gifts and presents is a stress-free event that Slovenians love to do. This love for shopping is also something entrepreneurial locals want to take advantage of.
First, the Slovenian Christmas Market is the highlight of the year. The products are usually locally-made, with super low prices and quality equal to any German-made trinket.
Almost every major city and town in Slovenia have their own Christmas Markets. Even then, the most famous is in Ljubljana, near the banks of the Ljubljanica River. Once you visit for Christmas, you’ll see a wonderful sight.
The banks are well-lit and look alive as the stalls set up. You’ll find different types of products on sale, including scarves, mittens, clothes, and even food. You can savor a ton of traditional Slovenian treats that you would surely love.
Hot teas and mulled wine are available from many sellers. You’ll find grilled meats and tasty sausages, together with potica cakes and other pastries. You can also find unique gifts that you can’t get anywhere else.
Expect to find handmade crafts, cozy knitted jumpers and hats, and small Slovenian ceramics and pottery. You can also visit the Slovene Center for Architecture and find beautiful gifts, including notebooks, jewelry, towels, and more.
Visiting Cities During Christmas Time
If you’re a tourist, there are several unique experiences that you can visit during the Christmas season in Slovenia. There are several regional celebrations that are special to the regions they’re found.
You can visit various locals, from the Postojna Caves to the Magical Maribor. There’s also the fairytale city of Celje to Lake Bled. You’ll find a ton of things to do and some experiences that you’ll only see here.
Maribor, for example, focuses on picturesque street events. The Trg Leona Stuklja Square has different concerts and even a Christmas Village for visitors. Grajski Trg Square enjoys festivals, parties, and special, theatrical promos.
Among the highlights of Maribor is the Fairy City, offering music and street theater. There are also many walking tours for people who are willing to visit and go around town.
Christmas in Slovenia is a time of love, generosity, and festivities across the land. It is a time for us to celebrate a good life and reflect on the passing year to be better versions of us next year. It’s also a time of enjoyment and to celebrate with the people who matter.
Will you be in Slovenia during the holiday season? Slovenia has many different events in the entire year. You can take a look at the many places you can visit around Slovenia.
Enjoy different activities in Slovenia and taste gastronomic delights. Talk to us now, and we’ll help you find experiences you’ll never forget.