In 1592, the scholar Hieronymus Megiser first wrote about the especially decorated Christmas bread that is in various places across Slovenia called poprtnik, namiznjak, žúpnik, župnek, poprtnják, bôžič, božíčnik, mížnik, nám(i)žnik, stólnik, postólnik, and in Kočevska region it is called šipling, žiplink, schupling or Schiplitzen. A good century after him, in 1689, the polymath Janez Vajkard Valvasor in his book The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola described the Christmas traditions and beliefs common in Carniola, part of which was also especially decorated Christmas bread (poprtnik). “From the days of yore, the Carniolan people worshipped the idols (die Götzen) such as Svarožič (little god) (Boxitium) and others, of which some superstitious customs and names remain until this day. On the holy Christmas days, they do not only put the bread on the table, but honey, nuts, bran, and the like as well, namely for three days: first on the holy night of Christ, then on the second occasion on holy New Year’s Eve, and the third time on the evening before the Three Kings’ Day (Epiphany). In Carniola, these three days are called three Holy Eves of Christmas or Three Christmas Eves.“
Šipling – a Christmas bread from Kočevska (Gottschee) area
There would be no festive “twelve holy nights” in Kočevska region without baking of festive bread. The table set up under the “prayer corner” with the Nativity scene was covered with a white tablecloth. At Christmas, the housewives made a large loaf of “šipling” bread from fine white flour and small loaves called guards (Gottscheerisch: bohtarǝ) and neighbours (Gottscheerisch: nohparn). The šipling bread was decorated with dough figures: Jesus in cradle, doves, chickens, cattle, swine that was on the edge surrounded by a wreath of dough. It had to remain on the table until the Three Kings’ Day (Epiphany). At that time, each family member received one piece. They also gave a piece of šipling bread to the animals to protect them from witches. The wreath or plait from the edge of šipling bread was stored and placed at the bottom of the basket at the first sowing to ensure a rich harvest.
Dove bread (“taubǝ”)
The women made small loaves of “dove” bread (Gottscheerisch: “taubǝ”) for the children. The kids loved to show them to their neighbours and sang: “Little dove, little dove, fly up, and bring great happiness to the house!” or: “Little dove, little dove, fly in my tummy.” If during the festive holidays anyone ventured forth, they had to take with them a dove-shaped šipling bread.
Christmas bread (poprtnik) in the Register of the Intangible Cultural Heritage
After World War II, the loaves of Christmas bread were largely replaced by potica (special nut roll cake). At the end of the 20th century, the baking of loaves of Christmas bread was once again revived and in 2013 it was entered in the Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia. Every year, the Parnas Institute from Velike Lašče organises a hands-on workshop, about which they also shot a 10-minute promotional film entitled Preparation of Christmas Bread (Priprava poprtnikov)
Poprtnik – a recipe
Christmas bread can be prepared in many different ways. Majda Tekavec from Velike Lašče bakes Christmas bread according to a recipe she remembers from her childhood:
- 1 kg flour, strong flour can make up half of it
- 3 eggs
- yeast cube
- 2 tbsp of rum or brandy
- 125 g butter
- up to 100 g of sugar
- 1 vanilla sugar packet
- lemon zest
- 1 tsp of salt
- from 0.5 to 1 litre of milk
Sift the flour onto a board and make a pit. Crush the yeast into it and pour in some warm milk. Add salt to the edge of the flour. Once the yeast rises, mix it with flour. Break the eggs into the pit and add rum. Gradually pour warm milk to make the kneaded dough soft. Knead, then pour in the melted butter and knead again until the dough becomes smooth. Make holes in the loaf of bread in several places to prevent it from cracking in the oven. Make ornaments from kneaded dough only when the loaf has risen so that it does not lose shape. Put them on with whipped egg or water.
Dove bread (“taubǝ”) – recipe
However, do not forget to bake a piece of dove bread for each of the children (and children at heart)! You can use the above recipe or the recipe written by Professor Horst Krauland in the Gottscheer Cookbook from 2008, published by the Gottscheer Landsmannschaft Klagenfurt.
Prepare the dough for Christmas dove bread from:
- 1/2 kg fine pastry flour
- 3 g yeast
- ¼ litre of milk
- 2 yolks
- 3 tbsp of sugar
- 15 dag butter
- 1 vanilla sugar packet
- lemon zest
- drop(s) of rum.
Shape a piece of dough to form a head with a beak and use a knife to make notches for wings and feathers. Use two raisins or coffee beans to make the eyes. During baking, you can support the head with a cork stopper.
You may also be inspired by a video from the baking Workshop prepared by the Parnas Institute.
And do not forget to write in the comment which recipe you prefer and share the photos!
– Popit, Ilja. 2019. Daritvena pogača župnik in Valvasorjev Hausgötze – gospodarček. Studia Mythologica Slavica. Available at: http://sms.zrc-sazu.si/pdf/22/SMS_22_11_Popit.pdf
– Bavčar, Julijana. 2012. Ptičkov vsaj toliko, kolikor je otrok pri hiši. Delo in dom. Available at: https://deloindom.delo.si/stanujem/ptickov-vsaj-toliko-kolikor-je-otrok-pri-hisi
– Zavod Parnas. Priprava poprtnikov. Available at: http://zavod-parnas.org/w/poprtnik/
– Republika Slovenija, Ministrstvo za kulturo. 2013. Opis enote žive kulturne dediščine: Priprava poprtnikov. Dostopno na: https://www.gov.si/assets/ministrstva/MK/DEDISCINA/NESNOVNA/RNSD_SI/Rzd-02_00022.pdf
– Gottscheer Zeitung. 2014 (december). Dǝ Khöscht ahoimǝ in Gottschǝab.
– Hauffen, Adolf. 1895. Die deutsche Sprachinsel Gottschee: Geschichte und Mundart, Lebensverhältnisse, Sitten und Gebräuche, Sagen, Märchen und Lieder. Graz: Styria.
– Županič, Niko. 1937. Okrog novega leta na Kočevskem: Tudi med Kočevarji žal izginjajo originalni zimski običaji. Jutro.
– Tschinkel, Wilhelm. 2004. Kočevarska folklora: v šegah, navadah, pravljicah, povedkah, legendah in drugih folklornih izročilih = Gottscheer Volkstum: in Sitte, Brauch, Märchen, Sagen, Legenden und anderen volkstümlichen Überlieferungen. Ljubljana: Založba ZRC, ZRC SAZU.
Would you like to know how New Year’s holidays used to be celebrated in Gottschee? Read also: Christmas tradition in Kočevska region.