February 8 sees Slovenia take a national holiday to commemorate one of the country’s most famous sons
February 8th is Slovenia’s cultural holiday; it’s more correctly called Prešeren Day, in honour of Slovenia’s most celebrated poet France Prešeren.
Prešeren was born in a village called Vrba in 1800; in those days the area belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg monarchy. He was the third of eight children, the oldest of the boys. His father was a prosperous farmer; his mother was very ambitious for her children and ensured that they were proficient in reading and writing before sending them to be educated by their uncles who were Catholic priests.
Young France excelled at his studies and in 1812, he was sent to attend the grammar school in Ljubljana. There he did brilliantly in Ancient Greek, Latin and German – then the language that any official business was conducted in. Prešeren’s talents were noticed by the poet Valentin Vodnik who encouraged the young man to focus on developing his skills in Slovene. At the age of 21, France moved to Vienna to study law at the university and in the process disappointed his mother who had hoped he would become a priest.
In 1812, armed with his degree in law, he returned to Ljubljana and started to work for a firm of lawyers. It was around this time that he met Julija Primic who would later inspire much of his poetry. Prešeren was infatuated with Julija but the feeling was never returned. Eventually he accepted this hard truth and settled for Ana Jelovšek; although they never married, they had three children together.
in 1846, his employers allowed him to move to the city of Kranj to open a office there. He died in Kranj just three years later and is said to have admitted on his deathbed that he had never stopped loving Julija.
Prešeren’s poetry deals with his love for his homeland as well as for Julija. He wrote the first Slovene ballad and the first Slovene epic poetry. A statue of Prešeren stands in Kranj, while in 1905 a statue was erected in his honour in the centre of Ljubljana. His poem Zdravljica was set to music to become the Slovenian national anthem in 1989, and his image appears on the Slovene €2 coin.
In his honour February 8 (the anniversary of his death) was declared Prešeren Day in 1945. Cultural events take place across the country and museums and galleries are free to visit on that day.
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