South Tyrol - rich of customs and traditions
For centuries, South Tyrol’s secluded side valleys were hardly influenced by the outside world. Stories and traditions were handed down from generation to generation and are cultivated even today. It is not simple folklore alone which has remained the expression of a sense of tradition in a village society in South Tyrol, but customs that have been kept alive and have retained their relevance, as well as local piety and the desire to preserve handed-down ways of celebrating and doing things.
Typical brass bands
In South Tyrol brass bands set the pace. 211 music bands perform all over the region at church celebrations and festivals dressed in colourful costume.
Almost 10,000 men and women in South Tyrol are voluntary members of music bands and almost every small village has one. Each (for the most part amateur) musician performs dressed in traditional costume which has differing characteristics depending on the valley and village.The colours are more than decorative. For example in the Val Sarentino/Sarntal a man with red hat braiding is still a bachelor, while a man wearing green braiding is already spoken for. In most cases traditional costume is made entirely by hand: hats, shoes, lederhosen are made by specialists using centuries-old techniques of working leather, loden cloth and other materials.
The music performed by South Tyrolean music bands is as varied as the individual costumes, ranging from rousing marches through classic waltzes and overtures to contemporary and even pop music. Members meet two or three times a week in the rehearsal room. The results of countless winter practice evenings are traditionally performed in spring during the first concert in the band’s home village, after which the repertoire will be repeated over again at various events throughout the summer. Of course each band performs classical marches which for the most part come from old Austrian military music. During parades and processions the members march in time, a skill requiring extra practice. The bands rarely have trouble recruiting new blood. Over half of all members are aged under 30. Great importance is placed on training and sponsoring young musicians and as a result South Tyrol’s music schools are bursting at the seams.
Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, is a time filled with religious customs and festivities.
The Advent wreath consists of four candles anchored in a circle of evergreen branches. This German Lutheran custom has been adopted by many families and churches, also in South Tyrol. Christians light an Advent candle as they say a prayer at the beginning (Sunday) of each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas.
St. Nicholas’s Day falls on 6th December and is celebrated in many villages with a procession. Dressed in bishop’s robes, St. Nicholas hands out sweets to children, accompanied by angels dressed in white and the “Krampuses”. They are devil-like, horned creatures with wood-carved masks, clothed in hides, rattling chains and cowbells, and beating “naughty” children around the thighs with birches.
Several days before Christmas families set up the Nativity Crib at home with figures made from clay or wood, often carved at home, replicating the manger scene where Jesus was born as described in the bible. It features the Holy Family in the stable with the shepherds and angels in adoration of the child. From 6th January they are joined by the Three Wise Men or Magi. Tip: The Diocesan Museum in the Prince Bishop’s Palace (Hofburg) at Bressanone/Brixen accommodates one of the world’s largest collection of Nativity cribs. You can find them also at Sexten/ Sesto at Hotel Mondschein.
Incense is burned in South Tyrolean homes on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and the evening of 6th January. In these three incense nights the family members carry a pan full of embers - over which incense has been sprinkled - around the house and farmstead praying for benediction. On the first days of the new year the Sternsinger (star singers) go from house to house. They are children or youths dressed as the Three Wise Men who, according to the Christmas story, came from the Orient bearing gifts for the Christ-child. They sing special songs and collect donations. With consecrated chalk they write the year and the initials C+M+B (Christus mansionem benedicat - Christ bless this house) on the house door.