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
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