FEEL Slovenia Podcast

Putting the Love in Slovenia: Saint Gregory's Day

March 12, 2024 Feel Slovenia Season 3 Episode 5
FEEL Slovenia Podcast
Putting the Love in Slovenia: Saint Gregory's Day
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

You can’t spell Slovenia without the word “love”. It’s tucked right in there between Sl and Nia. It’s a cute tourism slogan, but it’s also much more than that. Slovenia is a wonderfully romantic place to visit as, for so many guests, it feels like a secret that only a select few know about. It’s obvious to spend a romantic weekend in Venice or Paris. But Slovenia? That’s extra cool. 

In this episode, Dr. Noah Charney spoke with Svetlana Slapšak, an expert on ancient traditions and a retired professor of Classics at the University of Ljubljana, Katarina Blažič, the co-owner of Ribno Resort in Bled, and Simona Mohorič, Head of Tourism for the City of Kranj. Together, they delve into the enchanting tradition of Gregorjevo or in English St. Gregory’s Day, Slovenia's charming answer to Valentine’s Day. We'll uncover the origins of this celebration of love, complete with the intriguing tradition of light-throwing, and unveil picturesque landscapes, romantic getaways and cultural experiences. From the LUV Festival in Ljubljana to the heart-shaped road near Maribor, Slovenia's romantic appeal is undeniable. With its stunning castles, wellness spas, and unique experiences like spending a night in a hayloft or dining in a mine, Slovenia provides endless opportunities for romantic adventures.

If you're longing to discover the most enchanting love corners nestled within Slovenia's embrace and yearn to delight your loved ones with authentic Slovenian souvenirs that express love, delve into this captivating story.

If you're curious about uncovering more intriguing facts about St. Gregory’s Day, look no further than this insightful read.

And if you're in search of the perfect destination to exchange vows and say "I do," let this guide lead you to your dream setting.

Feel Slovenia the Podcast is brought to you by the Slovenian Tourist Board and hosted by Dr Noah Charney.

Sound Production:
Urska Charney

For more inspirational content, check out www.slovenia.info and our social media channels, including Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Tripadvisor.

Dr. Noah Charney: Hello, welcome, and dobrodošli to Feel Slovenia, the podcast.  In each episode, we will explore what I have called the world's best country, meeting locals, traveling, eating, and getting to know the very best of Slovenia.  This podcast is written and hosted by me, Dr. Noah Charney, and is brought to you by the Slovenian Tourist Board. 

You can't spell Slovenia without the word love. It's tucked right in there between sl and nja, Slovenia. It's a cute tourism slogan, but it's also much more than that. Slovenia is a wonderfully romantic place to visit. As for so many guests, it feels like this wonderful little secret that only a select few know about.

It's obvious to spend a romantic weekend in Venice or Paris, but Slovenia? That's extra cool. In this episode, we'll look at Gregorjevo, Slovenia's traditional answer to Valentine's Day. and find out where the story of romance and light throwing come from.  This episode comes out on Gregorjevo, or St. Gregory's Day, which we might think of as the Slovenian equivalent of Valentine's Day. There's more to it than that, and in Slovenia, Valentine's Day is also celebrated. But here you can double up on your late winter romance, celebrating both days, just as the Slovenian language is considered particularly romantic, since it's one of the few that preserve the dual verb form.

Yes, you conjugate a verb in a special way when describing something that two people do.  This can be romantic, as in, sva šla na sprehod, we went on a stroll, as in, my spouse and I, or it can be less so if you're referring to a stroll with your dog.  If you're looking for romance, then Slovenia has you covered.

Ljubljana, the capital, means beloved, after all. The LUV Festival, that's L U V, is held every February and March in Ljubljana, and is packed with activities, concerts, and events, all ideal for couples in love. Drive through Špičnik, and you'll find a much photographed heart shaped road through a vineyard near Maribor.

This was so lovely a view that it was appropriated by a French tourist office, which ran a poster showing the road and advertising Alsace, France. There are obvious romantic spots all over Slovenia, like Lake Bled, where basketball superstar Luka Dončić proposed to his fiancée. Condé Nast Traveler  agreed, dubbing Ojstrica, a hill overlooking Lake Bled, as one of the world's most romantic places to propose.

They're all manner of romantic excursions and packages for couples around Bled. I spoke to Katarina Blažič, owner of Ribno Alpine Resort, a wonderful hotel and glamping spot just a stone's throw from Lake Bled. Now, Ojstrica may be the overlook favored by a Condé Nast traveler, but she had another hilltop view to suggest.

Bled is one of the most beautiful and romantic places in the world. Now you run a hotel here. So you are used to couples coming to visit. What do you recommend for a romantic outing? Somewhere around Bled.  

Katarina Blažič: Bled is really very romantic place. And I think all the couples would enjoy staying here, maybe in our place and hotel or in the glamping. 

And maybe I would suggest them something like a romantic package with a bottle of sparkling wine and a loaf plate with some cheese and grapes.  And maybe in the morning, very romantic breakfast in a basket, deliver directly to the terrace where they're staying. Or maybe they can take a bike and make a round trip around the Lake. And maybe they can go to a beautiful place. It's not a mountain. It's a hill called Gače and we can prepare a beautiful breakfast on the blanket, like in the old days.  

Dr. Noah Charney: If a hilltop is good, how about a hill topped by a castle? Castles make a cinematic spot for weddings, as do many wellness spas that offer perfect getaways.

Now, if you prefer something more rugged, you can spend a night in a five-star hayloft at the Firbas homestead, or snuggle up in one of the herdsman's huts atop Velika Planina, a Narnia like mountain plateau in the Kamnik Savinja Alps range that feels within reaching distance of the stars. I'm never sure whether it's romantic or just giggle inducing, but Velika Planina boasts a hyper local indigenous cheese called trnič, which is shaped vaguely like a boob, and which always comes in pairs.

I once appeared in a promotional video for Velika Planina that was all about this so called boob cheese. Well, how about dinner in a mine? It's more romantic than it sounds. As part of the experience of the town of Velenje

Why not drink to love with a bottle of sparkling white wine called Untouched by Light? The world's first wine made entirely in darkness and only exposed the moment you pop open the bottle.  

Speaking of light, so what's the deal with Gregorjevo, Slovenia's answer to Valentine's Day? It turns out it's all about light, with love as more of an afterthought. To learn more about it, I spoke with Svetlana Slapšak, a professor specializing in mythology and the classical world.

Svetlana Slapšak: When we speak about feasts, about the new sun, about the beginning of the fertile part of the year and so on, we cannot avoid one very,  good looking in a way, visually, and very tender feast, which is traditional to Slovenia. And it's Gregorian, and Gregorian's Feast is, the time in which traditions which are very, very old and rituals which are really old meet some more modern happenings.

Well, in fact, Gregorian Feast is all about the change of a calendar. from Julian to Gregorian, and it bears the name of a pope who did it. So, it's a church feast, but there are other much older rituals which are preserved within it, and these are rituals about the new sun, the beginning of the fertile year, and a very spectacular event, in fact, in which visually the water and the fire are united. It's about pieces of wood, pieces of straw, a little, sometimes little boats made of paper also. which bears some light. And this light fire is usually maintained for a while with some other material. So, you have the little pieces of wood or straw or paper floating in water and bearing a flame.

And this, union of flame and of water is in fact the union of the upper world fire and the underworld water. So, deities from both worlds are united to produce new life. And it's, as I said, it's a very old ritual. And it's also transferred to children, which are the main actors. They, enjoy making little boats and putting candles and pieces that would burn for a while and so on.

And then this very poetic imagery is connected to the time when birds get married. In fact, they make their nests, they produce eggs, they care about the little ones. So, the whole thing is somehow transferred into the, if you want, into the areas of children. 

Dr. Noah Charney: There are various Gregorjevo celebrations around Slovenia, from Maribor to Vrhnika, from Ljubljana to Kranj.

To find out what's available and where the tradition comes from, I spoke to Simona Mohorič, Head of Tourism in the town of Kranj. Simona, thank you so much for coming to speak with us from Kranj. First question for you, before I move to Slovenia, I've never heard of this holiday, St. Gregory's Day, or Gregorjevo. What's the story behind it?  

Simona Mohorič: Greetings from Kranj. We all know love is in the air through the whole year,  but in Slovenia lovers can celebrate it at least on two separate occasions. First on Valentine's Day in February and second on St. Gregory's Day on March 12th. Tradition has it that on St. Gregory's Day, birds are joined in wedlock.

In the days of yore, it was custom for the maidens to look up into the sky on this day. It was believed that the first bird they would see indicated what type of husband they will end up marrying. St. Gregory's Day is also when the first hint of spring fills the air, bringing with more sunlight and warmth.

But on the other hand, places with a long-standing tradition of crafts such as blacksmiths, tailors, and trade believe that St. Gregory tosses the lamp into the water, as the days have become longer and artificial light is no longer needed in the workshop. Well, over the time, the tradition was born of crafting miniature boats and houses, so called Gregorčki, and sending them off downstream. 

This spectacle takes place on the eve of St. Gregory's Day, So on March 11th, after the dusk around 5 p. m. 

Dr. Noah Charney: So, what does it look like in practice? I've seen often on the news that day, there'll be some video clips of especially children celebrating by setting little boats made out of wood or even paper afloat with candles in them. Tell me a little bit about how the tradition manifests itself today in Slovenia. What are we likely to see? 

Simona Mohorič: On the eve of St. Gregory's Day, so on the March of 11th, some of the tiny vessels are truly pieces of art and attending the custom is quite a treat. Mostly tiny floating glides are made by preschoolers and schoolchildren and carry quite a symbolic meaning.

For the most genuine experience of Gregorčki vessels, launching is worth visiting cities in the upper Carniola region. such as Tržič, Kropa, Kamna Gorica, Železniki, and of course, Kranj.  

Dr. Noah Charney: Tell me a little bit about what's special about the celebration in Kranj. I know that there's a lot of places around Slovenia, the places you mentioned also as far away as Maribor, that have special festivities related to St. Gregory's Day. But if we were to come to Kranj, what are some of the things that we could do there on that day? 

Simona Mohorič: In Kranj, you can be with one foot in the city, And with the other in the middle of nature, the old town arises above the 30 meter deep Canyon of Kokra River,  which is magnificent venue to celebrate such a tradition and custom. So, on the eve of Saint Gregory's day, we first held workshop for preschoolers and school children, including an invitation to walk in the gardens in the municipality to participate. And then secondly, we gather at the banks of the Kokra River, sending glides down the river,  illuminating the whole canyon beneath the city. It's really an exceptional experience. And I should mention this year's novelty is lovely couple, the mascots, Kranjček and Kranjčica. They will also accompany the children in the making of the art creations and  give them small gifts to stimulate their imagination. Last year, Kranj was awarded the Slovenia Green Destination Platinum Label and named European Destination of Excellence 2023.

And therefore, as a green destination, we kindly urge everyone to use nature friendly materials to create Gregorčki. In the light of sustainability, after the downstream, the miniature boats and houses, are dammed with a dam and subsequently collected from the river with the help of firefighters.  So, shortly to say, we say goodbye to short winter days, we discuss them in tradition and we welcome spring that is coming. 

Dr. Noah Charney: I like this because it's somewhat linked to the concept of Kurentovanje, chasing away the winter. And then a few weeks later, we have the throwing away the candles and lamps that we needed for winter and welcoming the spring. So, these are two bookend holidays that I first encountered in Slovenia. I love that they're a tradition here. They're very beautiful. And it sounds like Kranj is a great place to go to celebrate this tradition. 

Simona Mohorič: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And we are more than happy to, to celebrate these festive days. And we would like to invite all to celebrate it with us.

Dr. Noah Charney: Thank you so much for being my guest, Simona, and I hope to see you in Kranj one day. I once wrote about the history of Valentine's Day for an American magazine and realize now that we've got rival concepts going about when birds choose their mates, and this has resulted in two parallel holidays. 

We tend to think of Valentine's Day as a hallmark holiday, an excuse to sell flowers, chocolates, and cards depicting cartoon birds and hearts and teddy bears. To ask someone if they will be your valentine has evolved, or perhaps devolved, into a shorthand for a childlike crush. You might as well ask someone to be your sweetie. 

We've lost track of the fact that Valentine is a man's name, a saint in fact, and February 14th is his feast day. Saint Valentinos or Valentine had nothing to do with love. Is the modern incarnation of Valentine's Day a mercantile invention? Is it the equivalent of an American Christmas, which brings to mind Santa Claus before it does the birth of Jesus?

Well, yes and no. While greeting card companies have certainly made meat of the Valentine's Day tradition, it's not their invention. People have been sending Valentine's for centuries. And the man responsible for associating the name of St. Valentine with romantic love is none other than the renowned medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer.

The association with St. Valentine's turns out to be arbitrary. It is February 14th as a date, regardless of the saint's feast day. That became a day for love, and it was thanks to Chaucer.  The author of Canterbury Taleswrote a poem in 1382 entitled A Parliament of Fowls, about the day when birds choose their mates.

In the poem, an embodiment of nature speaks to the birds. Birds take heed of what I say, and for your welfare and to further your needs, I will hasten as fast as I can to speak.  You well know how on Saint Valentine's Day, by my statute and through my ordinance, you come to choose your mates as I prick you with sweet pain and then fly on your way.

The popularity of Chaucer's poem, which likely stems from a pre-existing general belief, at least in medieval England, that February 14th is the day when birds choose their mates, is what truly cemented the idea that Valentine's Day is a celebration of romantic love. This belief was recorded in medieval bestiaries, popular early books that compiled stories about animals, mythical and otherwise. 

Never mind that not all birds mate for life. Penguins do, as do geese and falcons, but most do not.  February 14th turns out to have been a well and good date for birds to choose mates in England. But in this part of the world, in Slovenia, it wasn't until March 12th, or St. Gregory's Day, the feast day for two famous Gregories, Gregory the Great, a 6th century pope, and the Renaissance pope Gregory XIII. 

Who is responsible for the Gregorian calendar, which has been followed in this part of Europe from 1584 to this day. Now, according to the old calendar, the Julian calendar, developed by Julius Caesar and followed throughout Europe until the Gregorian calendar took root, March 12th is the first day of spring. 

Locals will tell you that St. Gregory's Day, Gregorjevo, is when birds, quote, get married.  The tradition tells of girls looking into the sky on that day, because the first bird a girl saw would in some way announce what her husband would be like. Now, there's no word in how seeing a bird would inform a girl about her future partner. 

This is one of the charming sounding, half formed ideas, the details of which are forgotten. But it sounds cute, so we'll go with it. The other side of Gregorievo is the tradition that St. Gregory, quote, throws light into water. This has a more obvious symbolism. Light in the form of lanterns and candles was needed in winter, but come March 12th, the days grew longer and artificial lights were no longer needed.

This was also official policy. Craftsmen, like cobblers and smiths, were expected to stop using artificial light to work by on this day. To symbolize casting off the darkness of winter, children, even today, will make small toy boats out of paper, wood, or natural materials and float little tea candles in them, placing them in streams and allowing them to float away.

An apocryphal legend tells that St. Gregory as a baby, Moses like, floated on a wooden raft down a river until he was found by a miller who adopted him. This tradition is prevalent throughout the former Habsburg dominion, and a German proverb states that, quote, Gregory makes day the same as night. As in, he brings about an equal division of night and day, as opposed to the long, dark hours of winter. 

But don't think this is a purely Christian tradition. As author of a book on Slavic myths, I'd like to point out that Perun, the main god of the pre-Christian Slavs, and Veles, the rough equivalent to Hades among the Slavs, were part of a similar tradition. Wood, pitch, and fire were attributes of Perun, whereas water was associated with Veles. 

The act of placing artificial fire, that is, controlled by humans, into water bid farewell to winter's darkness as an empowering choice. The human was choosing to wave goodbye to fire, assured that spring was here. Whether you'd care to celebrate the coming of spring or the love of your life, Slovenia, the only country with love in its name, is the right choice for a beautiful visit. 

Hvala and thank you for listening to Feel Slovenia the Podcast.  This podcast is brought to you by the Slovenian Tourist Board and was written and presented by Dr. Noah Charney.  Please subscribe to get each new episode and tell all of your friends interested in travel and all things Slovenia.  If you'd like to learn more, visit slovenia.info.  For more information, you're welcome to follow our social media channels. 

Svetlana Slapšak, a professor specializing in mythology and the classical world, explains about Gregorjevo
St. Gregory's Day celebrations around Slovenia
The origins of St. Valentine's Day
The origins of St. Valentine's Day
St. Valentine's Day vs. St. Gregory's Day