This winter festival celebrates the city’s Slovenian heritage with an annual parade and party featuring food, drink and furry mythical creatures.
While many of us hide from frigid weather and gray skies, Cleveland’s Slovenian community braves both with a pre-Lenten tradition meant to ward off winter and usher in the warmer days of spring.
Mirroring the Eastern European nation of Slovenia’s annual folk festival, which dates back to 1961, Cleveland Kurentovanje comes to the city’s St. Clair-Superior neighborhood each winter. The tradition began locally in 2013 and is perhaps best known for its costumed Kurents: tall, furry creatures that sport carnival masks, sheepskin hats and cowbells tied around their waist. Folklore says the beasts wake from their hibernation each year to send away winter’s chill.
“All [costume] components [aside from the cowbells] are handmade in Slovenia,” says Nicole Kusold-Matheou, Cleveland Kurentovanje organizer. “The Kurents also carry a stick with real hedgehog spikes around the top, [which] also are for scaring away winter.
This year’s Cleveland Kurentovanje Parade & Festival is set for Feb. 10. It is preceded by a Feb. 5 pop-up dinner party presented by Dinner in the Dark.
“It’s a multicourse meal and each course is put on by a chef who is unknown at the time of people booking,” explains Kusold-Matheou.
On Feb. 7, Cleveland’s Slovenian Museum and Archives features a Kurentovanje special exhibit, and the Kurents make their first appearance on Friday, Feb. 9 at Kurent Jump, a $25-per-person party where guests can enjoy Slovenian food, a cash bar and entertainment.
On the morning of Feb. 10, the creatures help kick off a small-but-mighty half-mile parade (it is February, after all) that also includes marching bands, floats and ethnic dance groups.
Once the procession reaches the Slovenian National Home, guests are invited to come in for a daylong celebration during which they can get their photo taken with the Kurents, gorge on authentic Eastern European dishes such as schnitzel sandwiches and krofe (a type of fried doughnut topped with powdered sugar) and try imported beverages.
“There will be a special Slovenian liquor called slivovitz,” says Kusold-Matheou. “Most people aren’t familiar with it, but it’s a really popular drink in, not just Slovenia, but most Eastern European countries.”
6409 St. Clair Ave., Cleveland 44103, 216/361-5115, clevelandkurentovanje.com