People used to besprinkle the sign of the cross on the bodies of the newborns with some drops of water right after they had been born. If the newborn had suddenly passed away, this act would have been considered baptism. Shortly after washing or ablution respectively, the newborn was, in case of a girl, wrapped in a men’s shirt and, in case of a boy, in a women’s skirt. This very action had the intention to irritate the evil ghosts, which meant to do harm to the newborn. The babies used to sleep in cradles (zibala), around which was tied a three finger’s breadth ribbon made of diapers. The Slovenes from the Raba Region knew numerous means to protect the babies from the evil eye, from scare and vampires (goblins). In Slovenska Ves / Rábatótfalu one used to throw the umbilical cord on the green meadow, in order to enable the newborn to grow quickly and healthy as grass. According to popular belief three feminine demons, so-called fate elves (sójen/i/ce, sóudice, rójenice), appeared on the day of birth and prophesied the babies their destinies. The elves arrived in three at a time under the table, on which people had put a loaf of bread and a glass of water before. Nobody except for beggars and servants were allowed to eavesdrop or even see the fate elves.
On the second or third day after birth, the midwife and the god mother took the newborn to baptism. Nowadays, the baby is baptised only on the sixth or seventh day. The godparents brought presents (pretzels, strudel, cooked chicken meat, raw meat, noodles and wine) to the newborn and the woman in childbed. The gift basket was carried mainly on the head. Baptism celebrations took place in the birth house or in the tavern either on the day of birth or on the following Sunday. The feast, in which the godfathers, siblings, parents and the inner family circle participate, usually lasts half a day.
The baby was exposed to many dangers. If the breast of the newborn swell and milk dripped from it, people interpreted this as a sign for the vampire (goblin) “tapping” the baby. In order to protect the baby people placed safety pins, pipes and cigarettes in the cradle. The Slovenes from the Raba Region attributed the diseases, which affected the baby, to the evil eye. In order to avoid this, each visitor had to spit in the direction of the baby saying: “Ugh! Ugh … you are ugly …!” People put dry burning heat under a broom, which had been laid in front of the door, or they touched the children with an iron item. The headache, which the baby got due to the fright caused by the evil eye, was cured by aspersing the child with consecrated wine making the sign of the cross on János Day. Among the Slovenes from the Raba Region the relatives meet three times between baptism and the marriage of the child: on First Communion, on Confirmation and on conscription. Since the 1980s also high school graduation became an event where the relatives meet. The family circle goes to second-grade cousins. Furthermore, also most non-consanguineous godfathers and their families are incorporated in the family circle.
The act of looking for a wife took place on Saint Nicholas Day. The boy offered his number one girl three apples saying: “Gild our lives!” If the girl accepted the apples, then she acceded to marriage with the boy. Thus the boy, together with his future witnesses to the marriage, could ask for the girl’s hand. For engagement, the boy took along a pretzel and a litre of wine. Whilst asking for the girl’s hand he strewed a handful of coins in her bosom. The will to marriage was mutually enforced by this very act. Afterwards, the girl went door-to-door in the whole community together with her godmother or any other elder women from her kinship in order to collect gifts (podaráj odi). Before the Second World War, the girl received mostly linen and eggs, later eggs and money and nowadays actually only money. Between the two World Wars they gathered the gifts with a cloth that had been attached to a stick or with a crochet bag. The girl stretched the linen and took it to the weaver’s, who wove her blankets for the future household effects. The eggs were either used for marriage meals or sold on the market in Monošter / Szentgotthárd. Originally this custom intended to ease economic worries. However, today it plays an important role in keeping the community together.
By reciting humorous texts from a best man’s book the best man (zváč, drüžben) invited the wedding guests. His hat was decorated with rosemary, asparagus fern or with a bunch made of paper flowers (korina). In his hand he held either a thorny stick decorated with colourful (white, blue, pink) ribbons or a best man’s stick (roudjef), the tip of which was equipped with a wooden bowl or a bunch of flowers. Two water bottles were hanging on the best man’s body. In one of the bottle there was wine and in the other grits, which the best man offered the people en route or inside the houses. Before the First World War the best man even took along a pistol. In front of every house he fired as many shots in the air as there were guests invited to the wedding living in that very house. Before the First World War the wedding celebrations took place in the house of the bride and later on in the house of the bridegroom. Poor families celebrated either in the house of the bride or in the house of the bridegroom. Midnight feast consisted of scrambled eggs (cvrtina), which were made of a hundred oven-cooked eggs, of ring-shaped cakes, pancakes and of strudels and pretzels.
In the end of the 19th century, women from Gornji Senik / Felsõszölnök used to say goodbye to their relatives (men, sons, daughters and mothers) by expressing mourning words on the funeral. Their elegies showed, which functions the deceased had within the family circle: “What shall we do without you now? Who will earn our bread now, who will till our fields now, who will cultivate them, who will mow the grasslands, who will wear nice trousers, who will now supply trousers made of fine drapery; who will get up early now, who will wake up the family members; …”
After the mourning song, the widow thanked the mourning guests for accompanying her husband on his last way and invited them to funeral feast. In the beginning of the 20th century only the wealthy Slovenes from the Raba Region, later on also other inhabitants could afford graves made of wood, cast iron or of stone. The crosses made of cast iron were coloured black or yellow and decorated with symbols depicting the Virgin Mary or angels. During the funeral process church bells tolled rhythmically. Pulling the church bell was known to the Hungarian Slovenes as well. The church bells, which were rung by the ringer manually, sounded in various rhythms. Until the 1960s, mostly only the pecunious villagers ordered church bell ringing for funerals. Since the 1970s everyone was able to afford it. In the 1980s, manual church bell ringing was replaced by the electrically operated carillon.
Until the 1970s, the inhabitants of the Slovene Raba Region produced (bunches of) flowers made of crepe paper for events such as baptisms, recruitments, weddings and funerals. For the festivities lasting from autumn to spring, people used these crepe paper flowers instead of real flowers. The Slovenes decorated their houses, churches, the Jesus and Virgin Mary statues and many other attributes needed for the festivities.
Translated from German into English: Joël Gerber
The German text is based on: Mukics Mária, „A Magyarországi Szlovének“; Press Publica, (2003)