Otepanje – a tradition that grows livelier every year

Have you ever heard of the tradition otepanje or even met the otepovci? Otepanje is one of the most recognizable traditions in Slovenia, steeped in a rich ethnographic and cultural significance. Originating from pagan times, this custom has earned its place in Slovenia’s Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage, highlighting its importance in preserving Slovenia’s cultural identity.

This tradition not only endures but flourishes with each passing year in Bohinj. In 2023, 14 boys from the village of Stara Fužina embraced the tradition and dressed in their traditional fur coat costumes to knock on the door of every house.

What happens during otepanje?

At the end of the year, the Upper Bohinj Valley witnesses boys wearing masks and fur coats traversing five villages (Srednja vas, Studor, Stara Fužina, Bohinjska Češnjica and Jereka) and visiting all the houses. They carry not just the warmth of their fur coats but also a meaningful wish for a Happy New Year to the locals. In return, they receive gifts, such as sausages, eggs, drinks, or money. 

Preparations for the event start at least one month prior. The boys gather, define their roles, choose a leader, and prepare their costumes. On the day of otepanje, they put on their masks and fur coat costumes and go around the villages. An accordion player accompanies the whole group, and the event lasts well into the night. Once otepanje is over, the boys share the gifts or organize a feast together.

Tradition has it that the otepovci (the masked boys) bring good luck to the house, but if the door remains closed, they will draw a sausage on it or the front of the house. A symbolic message, considered shameful in the village and a reproach to the master of the house. Locals still remember messages that were even sillier and quite serious. It happened once that the master’s cart was relocated from under the hayrack where it was parked to the roof of this one, or another time eggs ended up adorning the facade of houses.  

What drives Bohinj boys to keep this traditional custom alive? 

Firstly, otepanje is more than just a custom: it’s a celebration of community, tradition, and connection between generations. For today’s generation of otepovci there are many reasons for keeping the tradition alive. One aspect is learning about their villages, houses and farms. It gives young people an insight into their fellow villagers’ lives that they would not otherwise have access to. It may sound presumptuous, but it is the young people’s understanding that it is key to strengthening their identity and connection to the village and community. 

If you find yourself in the vicinity during otepanje on St. Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day (December 26) in Studor and Stara Fužina or New Year’s Eve (December 31) in the other villages, be prepared to partake in this tradition!

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