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The Slovenian underground living Nativity scene

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At Christmas, Postojna Cave offers a magical underground spectacle.

Postojna Cave, one of the most popular natural sights in Slovenia, is a 24-km-long karst cave system with an over 200-year-old tradition in tourism, which has so far attracted more than 38 million visitors. At Christmas, the caves offer a magical underground spectacle.

For five days in a row a group of 150 actors and singers perform a living Nativity scene. The project has a long tradition: this year the living Nativity at this remarkable tourist attraction is being set up for the 28th time.

A multi-tasking pensioner

Gabrijela Bovč is the heart and soul of the living nativity at the Postojna Cave. The vital and energetic 73-year-old is its director, scenographer, costume designer and  property master. She has been part of the living Nativity project for nearly a quarter of a century.

“The actors are incredibly passionate about the project, they work hard and do what I say, there are no problems. We get along well, everything runs smoothly,”  says Gabrijela, who officially retired several years ago, but her daily schedule is absolutely packed: she is a writer and a tour guide, as well as a former teacher and sports trainer.

The living Nativity daily attracts up to 3.000 visitors, who are taken inside the caves by special underground trains, running every 15 minutes or less. The actors perform for five hours, putting all other activities on hold. Most of the actors are locals, amateurs, and every year three Slovenian celebrity guest-singers are cast. The show features 16 biblical scenes, based on the gospels of Luke and Mark.

Living Nativity in numbers:
5 km of footpaths through the cave
16 biblical scenes
a 90-minute spectacle
2,100 colorful lights
up to 3.000 visitors a day

Zacharias from the next-door garden, Joseph from a heavy-metal group 

As far as Gabrijela is concerned, the greatest challenge is pulling together all the strings of the project. She puts a lot of her energy into the performance but it is reciprocal. She constantly searches for new actors, particularly those who play an instrument or have similar features to biblical figures.

She “found” Zacharias in her next-door garden, asking a neighbor growing a few-week-old beard at the time to perform in the living Nativity. Milan, 68, is now used to having his last shave of the year at the beginning of October.

The largest group of actors is the angels – there are 12 of them. Due to several different scenes the part of Joseph is played by four men. Among them there is an artist and a heavy-metal musician Nik, whose image impressed the jury at the audition four years ago. In recent years he has performed in the main scene and has been given special honor by carrying a cane which has been part of the living Nativity project from the very first performance in 1989. Because of a new job he has recently had to hand over the part of Joseph to another actor. Which says a lot about the demanding roles: during performance days actors have to dedicate most of their time to being part of the living Nativity.

Translated from Slovenian by Mojca Masterl Stefanic

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