Holidays are important to culture and knowing and appreciating a nation’s holidays can be a key factor in enjoying a trip abroad. A few weeks ago we spent a couple days in Slovenia and were surprised that our visit coincided with not one, but two national holidays. We arrived on Tuesday October 31 in the little town of Kobarid in the early afternoon. We checked into our room and set out on a walk to explore the town. It was exceptionally quiet. The information office was open so we stopped in to get some maps and were told that it was a holiday and that November 1 was a holiday too! I had no idea! I thought for a second about what holiday it could possibly be and nearly made a joke about Halloween, but thought better of it. Apparently, October 31 is Reformation Day in Slovenia. According to the Slovenian Times, "Reformation Day, which has been observed in Slovenia since 1992, marks the day in 1517 when German priest Martin Luther made public "The Ninety-Five Theses", which sparked the Protestant Reformation. Although a predominantly Catholic country, Slovenia has celebrated Reformation Day as a national holiday since 1992 to remember a turbulent yet culturally rich period in the 16th century that produced the first book written in the Slovenian language."
All the stores were closed. We went in to a bar to see if we could get some food – maybe a sandwich or something….we were told they had no sandwiches, only toast! We asked what was on the toast and we were told – ham and cheese! So we had ham and cheese “toasts” for lunch and they were great. By the way, a toast is a grilled sandwich on bread!
We were surprised again by All Saints’ Day, even though we learned just the day before that it was also a national holiday. I am Methodist and for me, All Saint’s Day is celebrated on the Sunday closest to Nov. 1 and we remember those in our church family who have died over the course of the past year by ringing a lone bell while each name is called and saying a communal prayer. It’s a lovely part of a Sunday church service. This year on All Saint's Day we took a four hour hike in the Slovenian mountains and then drove to a beautiful white church we saw on a hill top. We just wanted to see the church and admire the view. The road became more and more narrow and curvy as we reached the church. We had to pull over as cars came from the other direction. As we reached the church we saw that the tiny parking lot was jammed and people were creatively making their own parking places. Remember this was on a steep hill and most cars, including ours, are manual shift. There is a cemetery surrounding this church and as I approached I could see that there were loads of people there – some in the church participating in a service, others visiting graves and lighting candles, others talking outside the church because it was completely full inside. Every single grave had beautiful, lush, fresh flowers and many lit candles in red glass covers sitting on it. It was an amazing experience to witness such a different way to respect this annual remembrance. If you get a chance, you might check out Google Images “All Saint’s Day Slovenia.”
Experiencing how other cultures celebrate holidays is one of the joys of travel. In addition to our Slovenian experience, we have been in the Amalfi coast for Palm Sunday, observed Christmas Eve services in Vienna, Caye Caulker and Copenhagen, and New Year's Eve in Geneva and Bruges. These celebrations, and several others, occupy a special place in our hearts. Be sure you check out the holiday schedule when you travel. It can mean frustrations with important landmarks being closed when you are there. It can also be the most meaningful part of your trip!
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