Slovak Traditions

My Love Affair with Folklore (and a Slovak folklore concert)

Children's Folklore Concert

If I had to guess, I would say that my love of all things related to traditional cultures started in my grandparent’s living room. Our fairly frequent family gatherings would often involve some Scottish airs and folk songs, my grandfather on the fiddle. Sadly, us grandchildren didn’t learn the songs although I recognize most of the melodies (I started learning the violin with my daughters, and one of my goals is to learn those songs).

One of my favourite memories is of listening and dancing to some jig or reel after a day of haying in the summer. At that time haying was a family affair, involving many hands, lots of food, major itch caused by sweat mixing with hay seed, and rides in the back of a pick up on swaying piles of hay bales. Hay used to be made into square bales, which are actually rectangular, and they were leaned against each other like a pyramid so that if it rained the water would run off instead of soaking into the dry hay, like this. We still did it by hand, lifting and carrying each bale.

Anyway, we were relaxing after a day of hard work by playing music, when an evening thunderstorm started and everybody dashed out in the rain to stook the bales in the field behind the house. My sister and I went out under an umbrella and tried to lift the bales but we were still too little to lift them. Afterwards we sat on my grandmother’s couch, counting the time between thunder. One Mississippi, two Mississippi…

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A Slovak Goulash Cook-off

A Slovak Goulash Cook-off

The air was thick with the smell of cooking stew, the buzz of a crowd’s conversations, and a tinge of wood smoke, as contending teams vied for the coveted ‘best goulash’ award.

The other weekend we attended a goulash cook-off in our village. Lined around the brick laid yard were cauldrons of various sizes and types, all containing variations on goulash. Even though the basic idea of goulash is the same, each competitor had his own style or twist on goulash.

Goulash is of Hungarian origin but, like many dishes of Slovakia’s southern neighbour, is immensely popular in Slovakia. Caramelized onions, meat, paprika, tomatoes, peppers, and marjoram are the crucial ingredients, with anything else being optional.  Click to continue reading

A Slovak Pig Butchering: Part I, The Setup and Process

Slovak Pig Butchering

One of the qualities that I enjoy about Slovakia is how many traditions are still observed in rural areas, whether it be folk singing and dancing, draft horse competitions, or lighting cemeteries up with candles.

Some of these traditions are cultural and remeniscent of the past; others are born from survival. In December, my husband’s parents had zabíjačka (za bee yach ka), killing the family pig.

In the not so distant past, everybody in the village had a pig. It was necessary for survival. Now its less common though still practiced, particuarly by older people.

I grew up on a farm in Canada, but the style of slaughter is very different. In my experience, a number of animals were slaughtered at once but not much was done with it. The meat would be cut up (after hanging if beef) and stored in the freezer. I remember making sausages once at my grandparents and the smoke house in use, but it certainly wasn’t the same day as butchering.

In Slovakia, one, max two, pigs are killed and a variety of goods are made that same day. Many of the recipes use up the organs, so that you can’t even tell when you eat it. Everything is used, besides the toenails, contents of the intestines, and ear drums. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll share those recipes here at Almost Bananas. Today, it’s about the set up of how they do it, which I think is fascinating.

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Draft Horse Competition in Slovakia

Draft Horse Competition in Slovakia

This last weekend we went up to Bytča in northern Slovakia to a small draft horse competition, something I’ve been wanting to go to for some time. In the more rural parts of Slovakia work horses are still used on smaller farms.

As we drove north the hills become higher and closer together and, about 15 minutes from our destination, we drove into winter. Snow lay thick on conifer trees, low bushes still held the snow. My oldest daughter loves winter as much as I do and she kept exclaiming, “Oh, look, Mom, snow! It’s so beautiful!”

When we arrived the snow started falling, fat fluffy flakes so thick sometimes you could barely see. Along one side of the grounds were tents selling decorated gingerbread, handmade cowboy type boots and hats, harnesses and other paraphernalia for horses, sheep cheese and wooly knits, balloons and kid’s toys, goulash, and coffee.

We arrived towards the end of the wagon slalom. Click to continue reading

A Slovak Christmas

opening gifts on Christmas

I know, I know, I’m breaking every blogging rule in the book. It’s January and I should be writing about new beginnings and positive thoughts, and here I am still on the old year. I wanted to share how a Slovak Christmas is with you though, and real life means it’s already January before I sit down to do it

A Slovak Christmas begins on štedrý Večer, literally bounteous evening, which is Christmas Eve. Christmas trees in Slovakia are traditionally put up on this day, although now some families put them up a few days before. The day is spent cleaning and cooking in most households, while burning incense (frankincense and myrrh).

Some families still take a walk to the cemetery before supper, to pray for deceased loved ones and ancestors. It’s also a chance to slip the presents under the tree. When you return, Ježiško has already brought the presents. Click to continue reading

Nuts in Honey: a handmade gift

Nuts in Honey sweet Christmas gift

When do you start getting ready for Christmas?

In general, I start thinking about gifts in September but then do nothing until the last ten days beforehand. I want to make all sorts of cutesy crafts with the kids and get into that holiday spirit, but we’re lucky if we get some paper snowflakes cut out and taped to the window. I plan handmade gifts for everyone I know, and then end up with none.

This year, I’m going to get it all done in a timely manner. And trim my expectations to be a little more realistic.

Now, however, is a good time to start thinking about handmade gifts. If you feel intimidated by the idea, it can actually be quite simple They don’t have to be fancy, you don’t have to be crafty. Click to continue reading

Glowing Cemeteries: November 1 & 2 in Slovakia (All Saints and All Souls Days)


All Saints and All Souls Day in Slovakia

The atmosphere is hushed, despite the number of people. Families walk slowly, stopping for a moment here or there with a candle or flowers. Candles and more candles flicker in the dark, illuminating a portion of chrysanthemums or the leaves on the tree above.

“May perpetual light shine upon them…” Prayers for the dead waft heavenward.

I’m in a cemetery. So are many others. Click to continue reading

Jarmok, Trnava, Slovakia

Jarmok, Trnava

Jarmok, pronounced yarmok, is a festival of the grape harvest season in Slovakia (at least, I think it is). While a few weeks ago we saw a dozinky, a celebration of the grain harvest, jarmok is a fair put on by the town. In Trnava, there are a number of sections: handmade crafts, everything for sale from clothes to kitchen gadgets, fair rides, food, medieval demonstrations, music.

meant to walk to the various parts of jarmok and take pictures for you all, but after wandering for 2.5 hrs at the handmade arts section, I had to run back home. I just enjoy marveling over objects of beauty, even though I don’t usually have money to buy them.

So, following are some of the pictures from the handmade section. I tried to choose photos of crafts unique to or common in Slovakia, with explanations. There was some lovely pottery, and you can see what I bought on my Instagram account.

Jarmok, Trnava
Trdelnik is a Slovak treat that waft sweet vapours through the fair; the smell alone is enough to ensure long line ups. Long strips of sweet dough are wrapped around a wooden cylinder and rotates as it bakes. It is then rolled in your choice of sugar and cinnamon, walnuts, and other toppings. Pulling on it causes the trdenik to unfurl and pieces are ripped off to eat.

Jarmok, Trnava
Just to make sure you always have a shot glass available, you can hang it around your neck.

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Museum of Slovak Villages, Martin, Slovakia

Museum of Slovak Villages, Martin, SK

Last week I shared with you our hike in the Rohace mountains, on our way north we stopped in Martin at the Museum of Slovak Villages. It’s an open air museum that has brought traditional houses from around northern Slovakia and set them up in a beautiful little valley. The day we were there we happened to catch a harvest festival, complete with singing and dancing.

Museum of Slovak Villages, Martin, SK

First up are the houses themselves. Made of squared off logs, most of the houses were chinked with moss, which was then burned. Slovak houses are long and narrow, to accommodate the long and narrow land parcels. The roofs have deep eves, I always think of them as in the shape of a witch hat.

Museum of Slovak Villages, Martin, SK

As cute as the houses are, the windows are rather small, meaning the inside is rather dark. Most of the houses consisted of one room to live in, sometimes a separate kitchen, and a another small room, for keeping tools and food, etc. No having your own room here!

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Basavel na plazi: Roma (Gypsy) Festival by Dive Maky

Cigansky Basavel: Roma (Gypsy) Festival

As a Canadian, when I used to think of gypsies (or more properly, Roma) I thought of colourful dresses, energetic music, and wood covered wagons. When I first heard Central Europeans speak about the Roma at college in the States, I was horrified, they seemed so racist. After being in Slovakia, I began to understand complications of the situation of the Roma in Central Europe.

The Roma  (or Romani, or Romany) originate from India and spread throughout Europe during the medieval ages. As nomadic people, they had various skills, like metalwork and carpentry, that they used to gain employment while camped on the outskirts of a town. The nomadic lifestyle was not so compatible with modern country borders, however. During Communism in Slovakia they were provided with housing and other needs, however, women were also subjected to coerced sterilization and the men lost the skills they traditionally had used for finding employment.

Roma are different from Slovaks in more ways than just skin colour. As groups, their behaviour is completely different; imagine packs of Italians in Germany. In public, Slovaks are reserved and somewhat cold (although not in private with friends). Gypsies, on the other hand, will have yelling matches in the town square. Roma have their own completely different language. They also have many children; some Slovaks are inclined to think it is a way to get more money from the government, but I’m inclined to wonder if it has to do with their traditional emphasis on and value of children and the tight knit extended family.

The Romany people have faced discrimination in various degrees throughout Europe since their arrival, and were a target of the Nazi regime. In Slovakia, at any time before 1989, I would attribute discrimination to simple racism. Since then, however, the problem is a little more complicated.

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