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Old Slovene Superstitions and Customs at the New Year
by Rado Radescek

Excerpted from Rodna Gruda, English Section January 1984

When studying the old Slovene superstitions and customs concerning the coming of the New Year, it can be found that a lot of them are still preserved. These are the customs which our forefathers used to respect at Christmastide, i.e. at about the time of the winter solstice when the day started to lengthen. Some of these customs were extended from Christmas up until the Epiphany, which is probably the result of the use of the Gregorian Calendar. In all parts of Slovenia it is still believed that whoever gets up early on New Year's Day will get up early the whole year through. And whoever lies in bed on New Year's Morning will get out of bed late the whole year. A lot of people also believe that if you win a game on New Year's Day then you will win games throughout the year.

It is a great misfortune to meet any woman first on New Year's Day, and particularly bad luck to meet an old woman. In general, according to popular superstition, an old woman brings misfortune, particularly so on New Year's Day.

On that day, in nearly ~ all parts of Slovenia unmarried girls have a chance to find a husband. All they have to do is to throw some money or a red apple into the water, before the sun sets. In Styria is was the custom, up until not long ago, for girls to go and fetch water from the stream early on New Year's Day. They took an apple with them and threw it into the water, saying: "Good morning, cool water, I bless you from bottom to bottom. I give you a small gift, now you give me a big one". Then she took the pail of water home. There everybody threw some money into the water and then they washed themselves in it, firmly believing that they would then have plenty of money all the year round. There was a similar belief in Carniola.

In some places the people of Bela Krajina sometimes started the year with a "novoletnica". This was a loaf of white bread, which stood on the table next to the "bozicnik". Everybody was only allowed a small piece of that loaf of bread. In Carinthia it was on New Year's Day that people started eating the second loaf of bread out of three which had been put on the table on Christman Eve. At the same time they put another loaf made out of poorer flour on the table. The first three were placed in a triangle in front of the crucifix, with a candle next to them. The first loaf was begun on Christmas Day, the second on New Year's Day and the third on the day of the Epiphany. Every animal also got a piece of the loaf of poorer quality on Christmas day. This loaf was always placed outside the aforementioned triangle. In the Slovene tradition quite a number of superstitions have been handed down about what we must do and what we may not do on New Year's Day. In some places in Lower Camiola (Dolenjsko) it is still beleived that when one hears thunder for the first time in the New Year one must lie down on the ground, as only in this way can one avoid pains in the belly all the year round. On New Year's Day the farmer must always go first into the stable, or else there will be no luck with the cattle in that particular year. Quite a lot of people in Upper Carniola (Gorenjsko) still believe this today.

A lot of things are forbidden, too, at the New Year. For instance, in the Kozjansko area it is believed that it is not a good thing to eat any kind of poultry, but only pork. The reason for this is that chickens move backwards as they scratch about whereas pigs always move forwards. Thus the farm will run unsuccessfully in the first case, and successfully in the second case.

In the Kobarid area it was once believed that if the candles in the church were burning brightly, evenly and without flickering on New Year's Day then the harvest would be a good one. On the other band, if the candles were not burning well, a poor harvest and a stormy year could be expected.

A lot of superstitions have been preserved with respect to New Year's Eve, too. In all parts of Slovenia some people believe that if one hears a hammer knocking on that evening then somebody is going to die that year, whereas if an accordion is heard then somebody is going to get married.

Among Slovenes it's a particularly common superstition that if anybody sees his or her own shadow on the wall without its head, then there is a suspicion of death. For such a sight is supposed to mean that one won't live out the New Year.

A similar superstition used to be preserved in the vicinity of Kostel and Suhor in Lower Carniola. Sometimes, on New Year's Eve people used to walk out of the village, shortly before midnight, to the so-called "mejasi" (boundary stones), where the gardens of the houses ended and the fields began. Then they used to put their feet on the boundary stone and listen to the voices of the night. Then they had to return in silence to their homes, and only relate what had heard at the boundary-stone when they got there. If anybody had heard the chopping up or sawing of wood in a house, or the sound of somebody crying in a house then that meant that somebody was soon going to die there. If they heard music being played then that meant that a wedding could soon be expected. If, on the other hand, a sound like the falling-down of a house could be heard, then that meant that a fire could be expected in that house, or at least somewhere in the village.

The local people of Kocevje once used to believe the following: "If you want to find out what is going to happen in the New Year, then climb up a wooden fence or a tree on New Year's Eve (during the daytime). However, you must not be carrying anything made of metal with you: no keys, no metal buttons on your jacket or hobnail in your boots.

In some parts of Slovenia, particularly in the villages of Lower Carniola, there are still a number of superstitions connected with shoes. For instance, if a girl would like to know whether she can expect a bridegroom or not, then on New Year's Eve she should throw a shoe over her shouldder towards the door. If, after landing, the toe of the shoe faces back towards the room, then that was supposed to be a reliable sign that she would not get married that year.

In various parts of Slovenia the custom is still practised of throwing molten lead into water, at about 11 p.m. on New York's Eve, and then guessing the meaning of the figures which appear.

Many Slovenes used to believe that on New Year's Eve the seeds of ferns gave special power. They thought that whoever was able to catch fern seeds by using a white handkerchief or sheet, and placing it underneath the bedding for the animals in the stable, would be able to hear how the cattle were predicting, at the end of the Old Year and the start of the New Year, the fate of their owners, particularly of the farmer himself, as well as of the cattle themselves. In Lower Carniola a fairy-tale is still told about the bailiff who was listening to a conversation between two oxen on Christmas Eve. The only difference was that this was supposed to have happened on New Year's Eve, that the bailiff who was listening to the two oxen talking together had with him "steljna slama" (bedding straw), that the farmer's wife was a witch and for this reason was turned into a snake.