About this Recording
76053-2 - SLOVENIA - Various: Winter Kolednica (Carols)




At the heart of Europe, where the Balkan Peninsula meets the Apennine Peninsula and the Danube Basin meets the Adriatic Sea, lies Slovenia. The country, nestling between Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy, has a        population of just under two million. Its capital city is Ljubljana. Its language, Slovene, is a member of the South Slavonic family. Beyond the official borders of Slovenia, Slovenes can be found in areas of Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy. There are around 500,000 Slovene emigrants living in other countries around the world. All of these Slovenes – those in Slovenia, those living in Slovene areas outside the borders and those scattered around the world – are linked by a common culture and tradition and constitute a uniform Slovene cultural area. In the past this common culture and tradition shaped the national identity and national consciousness of the Slovenes and, despite the influences of the Romance, Germanic, Magyar and Yugoslav worlds, the Slovene area formed and preserved its own unique cultural image, which largely belongs to the Alpine area. Thanks to their way of life and respect for tradition, Slovenes have managed to conserve, to the present day, many relics of the past in both their material and spiritual cultures. The most characteristic form of musical expression of the Slovenes is singing, although the instrumental tradition is also important. Slovene folk songs consist of narrative songs (legendary songs, historical songs, social songs, etc.) and lyrical songs (children’s songs, love songs, ceremonial songs, etc.). Slovene folk songs are in major keys and are usually for three or more voices. The leading voice usually takes the middle part, the upper voice follows it a third above, and the bass line moves around the basic harmonic intervals. When these three voices are joined by a fourth voice, the fourth part interweaves among the other three, sometimes even ascending beyond the upper part. Songs are usually sung loudly, without changes of dynamics or tempo, and in a slow, drawn-out manner.


Singing was often connected to customs, and one such custom is koledovanje, where a group of people (koledniki) go from house to house in and around the village on certain feast days and sing songs appropriate to the occasion (although sometimes the greetings are spoken). The greetings bring happiness and blessings to the house and its inhabitants, to the animals and to the fields, and thus the koledniki are repaid with gifts. The koledniki perform a kind of religious function and folk beliefs ascribe them supernatural power. Best known is koledovanje at Christmas, New Year and the Epiphany, although there are also other types which differ considerably in terms of time and place. Most of the koledniki are men, although children and women occasionally take part. As a rule the singing is done without instrumental accompaniment.

In all probability these ritual visits from house to house derive from pagan times. The name koleda derives from the word calendae, the ancient name for ritual house-to-house visits to mark the New Year which our ancestors probably adopted from the Romans. It is likely that during the period of Christianisation – or through the intervention of Christians – the word koleda began to be used for house-to-house visits at Christmastide. The first written reference to koledovanje in Slovenia dates from the second half of the 16th century when Primozˇ Trubar, the author of the first book in Slovene, refers to it as an ancient tradition.


The melodies of the songs of the koledniki do not differ greatly from other folk songs. The words usually contain a greeting to the house, a description of the event, a request for gifts, an expression of good wishes, thanks for the gifts and a solemn farewell. In the past koledniki were given food; these days it is customary to give them money. At one time this custom would have helped some of the poorer singers get through the winter. Today the gifts are usually collected for charitable purposes.


The album contains examples of various sung or recited kolednice (carols) and some songs from the Christmas and New Year period. These are just a small part of Slovenia’s rich musical tradition. Some dance tunes have also been added for their seasonal importance.


The beginning of the Winter koledovanje is announced by a St. Barbara’s Day carol (track 2). In eastern Slovenia on the evening before St. Barbara’s Day (4 December) singers known as polajzˇarji go from house to house wishing happiness. Koledovanje also used to be a feature of the pig slaughter in winter. At slaughter time children (mainly the poorer ones) would go from house to house, sing a song of good wishes and receive in exchange some pork or sausage. These days there is no longer koledovanje at slaughter time but in some areas songs are still sung at this domestic celebration (track 4).

Christmas carol-singing (24 and 25 December) preserved pagan beliefs which are, however, combined with the Christian message. This period is closely connected to nature and the winter solstice, when the days start to get longer. At Christmas time koledniki would go from house to house and sing songs. Today, however, Christmas is more of a family holiday. People celebrate at home and sing various Christmas songs (tracks 6, 8 and 9). In eastern Slovenia it was the custom on the day after Christmas, 26 December, or St. Stephen’s Day, when the horses are blessed, to sing or recite St. Stephen’s Day carols. This usually happened on the eve of the holiday or first thing  in the morning (track 11). Carols are not sung on 27 December, the feast of St. John the Evangelist, but at Predgrad in the Poljane Valley it used to be the custom to dance a round dance or kolo to mark the winter solstice; Christianity ‘disguised’ this custom with celebrations and dances to mark St. John’s Day. They danced to the old ballad Pobelelo pole z ovcama which tells the story of three women who tear out a young man’s heart (track 13).


Koledovanje to mark the New Year also includes tepezˇkanje–Holy Innocents, today best known as a holiday for children who use this day to ‘thrash’ grown-ups without being punished. On this day, 28 December, we also remember the Holy Innocents massacred by Herod. Once upon a time it was adult men who went ‘thrashing’ and with their ‘miraculous’ rods restored vital energy (track 15). The transition from the old year to the new year is a time when people exchange greetings and wish each other all the best for the new year. That is why even today New Year’s koledniki travel around the countryside wishing people health and happiness and       blessing their houses (tracks 17, 19 and 20).


As the Gospel tells us, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, variously known as the Three Kings, the Three Wise Men or the Magi, followed a star until they found the Baby Jesus. Then they bowed down before him and offered him gifts. In Europe, the singing of Epiphany carols on 5 January, the eve of the feast of the Epiphany, has its roots in medieval dramatic rituals and is today the most widespread form of koledovanje in Slovene ethnic territory (tracks 22, 23, 24). At Candlemas, 2 February, candles are blessed to remember the Purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Christ in the Temple. In the popular religious tradition Candlemas means the end of the Christmas period. In eastern Slovenia it is also marked by Candlemas carol-singing, a tradition which has also been adopted by female singers (tracks 26, 27).

The compact disc contains a series of documentary recordings of Slovenian kolednice. The songs are recorded on various types of equipment and therefore the quality of some of the recordings, particularly the older ones, is slightly poorer. All the recordings with the exception of tracks 13 and 28 are kept by the archive of the Institute of Ethnomusicology of the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana. In these recordings you can hear thirty-four different singers and groups from various parts of the Slovenian ethnic territory. Some of the songs are not kolednice but they have been included in this presentation because they are songs that are traditionally sung during the Christmas/New Year period.

Between the songs I have also included instrumental recordings and examples of festive bell-ringing and chiming. These add variety to the compact disc and serve as an introduction to traditional Slovene  instrumental music as it was once heard – and is still heard today in places – on feast days and holidays and as part of daily life.


Masˇa Komavec                                                  

Institute of Ethnomusicology Scientific

Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts


Close the window