For many people, the day after Christmas is mostly a day of rest after all the feasting and gift-giving of the holiday season. In villages across Slovenia, however, December 26 also marks an old tradition – it’s the day when horses are blessed by priests.
The tradition has its origins in an era when horses where among the most valuable possessions a household could own. For centuries, the fortune of many farms depended on the health of its animals. The tradition of horse blessings taking place on St. Stephen’s day, December 26, has its origins in the 18th century. Some villages, however, organize the blessing more than a month earlier — on November 15, the feast of St. Martin, the patron day of horses.
Whatever the date chosen, the horses are gathered early in the morning, accompanied by most of the local population. After a short speech, the priest sprinkles the horses with holy water. Salt is often given to the horses as a symbolic offering of the year to come. The entire event is a major social gathering, in many cases organized by the local volunteer fire department.
According to Catholic tradition, the blessings serve to resto the horses’ health and keep away evil spirits. The events are apparently a success; the oldest continuously organized horse blessing has taken place in the village of Dolenja Stara Vas for the past 147 years. Many other village stake the tradition just as seriously.
Despite urbanization and changing lifestyles, horse blessings still attract large crowds to villages throughout Slovenia; many communities are eager to keep their centuries-old tradition alive by sharing it with outsiders.
Source: Jaka Bartolj | rtvslo.si