Holy Saturday Celebrations in Porabje
As every year, the Slovenes from the Raba Region celebrated this year’s Holy Saturday with the traditional sanctification of the ham and of other edibles that are typical for Easter by the local priest, by sparking great fires and by firing “cannon balls”.
Števanovci / Gornji Senik, 2006/04/15
The solemn sanctification of the ham
We begin our coverage in Števanovci, where we attend the traditional ham sanctification. Already in the early afternoon the inhabitants of Porabje start preparing for the sanctification of the ham, of the very savoury horseradish and of eggs and bread by the priest. They wrap the foodstuff destined for sanctification in white cloths and place them carefully in wicker baskets. Holy Saturday means the ending of fasting, and the edibles that are being sanctified today will be eaten on Easter Sunday. At 6.30 pm the villagers meet at the church of Števanovci where the priest and a group of acolytes await them already. The cleric and the adolescents who are dressed in white stand in the church aisle. Most believers sit inside the church in silent devotion. Their wicker baskets containing ham and other edibles stand on the floor, right next to the pews. Neatly arranged, one after the other. Also during the process of sanctification villagers walk to the church. Very often men take the baskets to sanctification. However, we also come across several families who appeared in order to take part in this holy procession. Those who came late wait patiently outside standing on the left and on the right side of the church gate. The aisle remains clear and seems to be the priest’s sphere. On an information board near the church we catch sight of an invitation to a traditional Holy Saturday celebration in Gornji Senik where winter and ghosts are being expelled. Later on we are also going to attend this celebration. We linger in the village centre for some more minutes watching the celebrations before leaving Števanovci and searching for further elements of the traditional Easter Days in Porabje.
Fires, church symbols and “cannon shots“
On our drive through the Slovene villages of the Raba Region we encounter many blazing fires, lucent crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary, which are decorated with candles and chaplets. People gather around the fires, which illuminate the darkening sky, and celebrate the ending of wintertime and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is an old custom in Gornji Senik to expel winter symbolically with thunderous cannon shots*. Fire and noise derived from an originally pagan custom. Malicious, evil and baneful ghosts were expelled with loud bluster, and by burning old and damaged objects people “freed” themselves symbolically from winter as well. Since Christianisation both the fires on Holy Saturday and bluster gained another meaning: celebrating the resurrection of Christ. The “shots” are fired from a small hill some meters above the village. Numerous villagers from near and far march the 1000 meters up the hill in order to attend the spectacle. We belong to them as well. On the knoll we spot three silvery cannons and a great fire. Above the fireplace two women sell bread flavoured with lard and onions. Furthermore, the party guests can satisfy their thirst at a bar. Both traditional as modern songs sound from large loudspeakers. Hardly anyone dances but one discusses and laughs. At 10 pm suddenly numerous fireworks appear in the night sky dancing in various colours and shapes. People turn their heads and gaze at the light spectacle. After about 10 minutes the last fire rain falls from the sky returning its dark dress. Time for us to leave. On the way back we wince several times due to the loudly whipping “cannon shots” before sitting in our car leaving the inhabitants of Gornji Senik to continue celebrating.
* Needless to say, no real cannon balls are fired but bangers are lit on cannons.