Cheerfulness for Each of Our Day
Entering the second decade of existence after its restoration, this great festival has become more creative, more modern and more attractive. In early July, the week of the Carnival, Leskovac is an explosion of colors, play, beauty, joy, music, parades of masks, costumes, hairstyles. The meaning of the encounter is ancient, celebrating life, and the participants come from all over. All this has grown into one of the most visited tourist event in the Serbian part of the Balkans

Text and photographs: Mirolјub Radivojević,
Dragan Radović, Jovica Smilјković

By establishing its cult and sacred relationship with nature, ancient peoples nurtured many rituals in which they celebrated birth, fertility, joyful strength and eternal renewal of life. It is no coincidence that the parades of masked men, such as our Koledari, in many European countries, according to a similar scenario, to the glory of awakening and flourishing of spring, tour villages and towns spreading joy and cheerfulness. Processions of Koledari, authentic and noisy, kept the Slavic tradition around Leskovac until the 1970’s. Studies by archpriest Dragutin Đorđević and authentic records of ethnologist Radmila Stojanović are testimony to this. Girls’ processions such as dodole, lazarice, queens remained slightly longer a part of living tradition, until the present day. Through song and dance they summoned rain, greeted the spring and celebrated the upcoming harvest.
In the Christian tradition, the carnival is linked to the period from Christmas to Fat Tuesday, or until the beginning of Easter Lent. The term mesojeđe (”meat eating”) is used for that period. In Serbia, the carnival is linked to such festivities.
And while koledari were celebrating the Carnival in the surrounding villages, in their own way, the agile residents of Leskovac, organized their carnival in 1929, right after Belgrade residents organized theirs. At that time, ladies of Leskovac lived in a trendy way. Dance parties, tea parties, soirees, dancing evenings, great annual balls, masquerades... occupying the attention of the rich.
The carnival was ”an opportunity for the poor to have fun at the expense of the rich”.
Until 1939, between the Meat and the White Carnival, before the Easter Lent, carnivals were being organized in the city. These events ended with ”wedding festivities in the streets of the city”.
Carnivals were organized thematically. The first had the theme ”Marriage of Prince Marko”, and the next one ”Marriage of Emperor Dušan”. Chroniclers recorded unprecedented crowds in the streets. The costumes were borrowed from the theater in Niš. Masked procession ran through almost all the streets and alleys in the city. They were followed by decorated horse-drawn carriages (for gentlemen) and drawn by donkeys (for the poor). A great was a carriage of Štrika Peka pulled by a goat. Mostly men were masked, once members of the Sports Club ”Momčilo”, the second time of Hawk Society. On this occasion the Society ”Tradition” was founded, whose members took care about the carnival. The main character of the carnival was Waiter Joca, short and chubby. With a bowler hat and tailcoat, painted pointed beard, round glasses and a monocle made of a sieve, he rode on a donkey, at the head of the procession, facing backwards. So turned, he was giving rhythm with a big stick to the Gypsy orchestra that followed him. Carnivals are, almost without exception, had a wedding as the theme, which would end in a make-believe marriage ceremony that took place in the yard of one of the taverns, but with true festivity until dawn.
Gentlemen and enthusiasts of Leskovac did not manage to overcome the problems, and the carnival, after so much ado, after the memory that was faded away, almost completely moved to oblivion.


The Carnival was restored from faded memories in 2006. Almost by accident.
Namely, seeking for new forms of presentation of the tourist offer, and wanting to offer to the mainland tourist industry the colors, beauty and charm of the Mediterranean in a distinctive way, in 2001 the Tourist Organization of Leskovac designed choreographies, brought together twenty beautiful girls and organized cheer leaders. For a few years they were the stars of all major tourist, sporting, cultural and economic events in the country. This was followed by invitations to participate in carnivals in other Balkan countries, and in the first carnivals in Serbia.
It was logical to add yet another attraction to Roštilјijada, the world famous Barbeque Festival of Leskovac. The ”Roštilјijada” Carnival lasted three years. The visitors were so numerous the third Carnival ”Roštilјijada” could not be brought to an end. After this, it was decided that the Carnival would grow into a new, independent tourist event. That year, Leskovac became a member of the Federation of European Carnival Cities (FECC).
The Carnival of Leskovac is one of the most prestigious in the Balkans. It is a blend of traditional, folk and modern carnival trends. It lasts five to seven days, and is among the longest in Serbia, and by the number of carnival events it is the largest in the region. Let’s just mention the following events: carnival games on the water, racing in barrels (association to the legendary barbecue master of Leskovac Drago Bure – Dear Barrel), pet carnivals, great costume party with over a hundred masked boys and girls, eco carnivals, festivals of tattoos, hairstyles, piercings, carnival of face & body painting, third age carnivals, carnival of majorettes and brass bands, children’s carnivals, fire festivals, workshops for making masks, souvenirs and costumes, carnival make-up workshops, schools for jugglers, clowns and acrobats, carnival exhibitions, carnival colonies and various competitions (in drawing the carnival, painting of carnival masks...).


The eleventh carnival made a breakthrough. Entering the second decade of its existence, the organizers wanted to give Carnival a somewhat different character. They gave up some of the repetitive content, and the Carnival became more compact and attractive. In the week of the Carnival, in early July, Leskovac Boulevard (these days they call it Carnival Boulevard) is a promenade packed with pedestrians and carnival programs. Decorated city, thousands of lamps, figurines, balloons, these are the hallmark of those evenings and nights in July. Pleasant music and attractive programs took turns in front of the stage on the plateau of Leskovac Cultural Center. In the hall of this institution is an exhibition of carnival caricatures by Kiril Manov, a guest from Pernik (Bulgaria), a prominent official of the FECC. In the gallery was also an exhibition of art photographers from Travnik (B&H), who photographed the Carnival together with colleagues from Skopje. We will see their artwork again at an appropriate exhibition during the year, but also in several publications.
This year’s costume ball was better than ever before. The seven-member jury had a difficult job. The winner was three-year old Veljko Stefanovic, disguised as a grandmother, which was strongly welcomed by the audience.
Particularly interesting was the painted body of a girl, work by Natalija Stojković, student of the School for Textile and Design from Leskovac.
At the Children’s Carnival, among of the ten groups, particularly fascinating was the mask ”Visitors 07” of the kindergarten ”Cvrčak” from Leskovac. This carnival group comes from a small kingdom recently created on the slopes of Hisar. This kingdom is known far and wide for imaginative residents, the smartest girls and boys, clever explorers. The audience and the jury awarded them wholeheartedly.
Among the accompanying events, the Fire Festival has a special place – a showcase of superb jugglers with fire from several cities in Serbia and guests from abroad. This year, the program participants were from Bulgaria, Macedonia and several cities in Serbia. And do not forget: before the main carnival, because of which everything is happening, we should also note the dance evening, filled with rhythm and beauty. This year, it was marked by an unusual program of KUD ”Lemind” from Leskovac, members of the Dance School ”Step by Step” also from Leskovac, dance and folklore group ”Zora” from Bulgaria, and samba group ”Mantock Dance International” from Novi Sad.


Traditionally, Leskovac Carnival gains momentum in the City Hall, at a reception organized for representatives of carnival groups by the Mayor of Leskovac Goran Cvetanović. Then begins a warm-up of participants and visitors. On two stages, Danijela Kulić Ignjatović danced fascinating tango with her partner. At the same time, on the home station of the Carnival, masters of trumpet Milan and Božidar Nikolić, from the orchestra ”Donja”, played Leskovac Quartet. People also danced a carnival kolo.
Bulevar Oslobođenja Street has never had so many cheerful people as in the evening of this year’s July ninth. And there was something to be seen and heard. About thirty carnival groups with rich choreographies, masks, attractions and fascinations, mesmerized in the procession that lasted three hours. Cheerfulness of colors, the mood, youth and beauty. Confetti, sequins, exclaims and sighs of delight.
Then the sky lit up with fireworks. And while the participants were leaving for the carnival masquerade ball, the audience was left party long into the night. ”If happiness has already been caught, it should be kept until it takes roots, so tomorrow you can share it with others. Let people accept our carnival smile for the good of every tomorrow.”
Carnival greeting from Leskovac: They ride, they ride, they ride!


”Leskovac Gazette”, no. 10, 16 March 1929, page 3:
Carnival Entertainment
Tomorrow, Sunday, on Poklade Festival, the Club of the Friends of France, together with the Board for the development of St. Elias’ Park, will organize a carnival entertainment in front of ”Paris”. The main attraction of the evening will be the traditional ”Biting an egg on a string”.


The First Carnival
Also in ”Leskovac Gazette”, in March 1929:
Sports Club ”Momčilo”, tomorrow, on Poklade Festival, organizes the first carnival in Leskovac, with the performance of the ”Marriage of Prince Marko”. That same evening, it will organize a carnival entertainment in ”Plug Hotel.


This year again, the Carnival chose its princess. It was the youngest princess in the history of the Carnival, three-year old Lola Pešić. She withstood all the temptations, received from the Mayor the keys to the city and, only a little bit sleepy, stayed awake until early morning hours with other participants.


The Carnival jury this year awarded: group ”Vezilki” of ”Struma” Association from Strumica (as the best carnival mask); group ”Cabaret Chicago” of Dance School ”Step by Step” from Leskovac (as the best choreography); group of Leskovac Carnival ”Africa Nossa, Africa Niἦa”(as the best carnival group).


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