Customs and traditions are an integral part of our culture
Countless traditions have developed over the millennia in “Ladinia”, the land of the Ladins. Many of these traditions have been lost due to the economy changing from a purely agricultural to a predominantly tourist-oriented culture. But others have managed to survive, though at times in a modified form. Many customs relate to the earlier somewhat sparse way of life of the populace and contain manifestations of superstition as well.
All Saints’ Day – 1st November
On this day, godparents give their godchildren up to the age of 14 a sweetened yeast bread sprinkled with corn sugar – for the boys in the shape of a horse with rider, and for the girls in the shape of a hen.
St. Nicholas Day – 6th December
St. Nicholas (Nikolaus or, in Ladin language, San Micurá), accompanied by an angel and one or more devils, goes from house to house to see if the children have been well behaved. On the remote farmsteads, which are difficult for Nikolaus to reach, the children put their shoes in front of the door the night before and in the morning they simply cannot wait to see if they have been rewarded with presents or punished with sticks.
Advent and Christmas
Families get ready for Christmas as early as the beginning of Advent. The long autumn evenings are used to set up the crib in the best room.
Christmas trees are a fairly recent tradition because people had to be careful with their trees, and had no money for decorations anyhow. If they did indeed sacrifice a small tree from the family forest, it would be decorated with homemade biscuits, apples, and nuts in their shells wrapped in tin foil.
On New Year’s Day the godchildren are given a “bambona”, a round sweetened yeast bread with the shape of a star pressed into it. This custom is now somewhat different. The children go from house to house wishing the inhabitants good luck, but also opening the large bags they carry and asking for presents. The grown-ups by contrast greet their friends and relatives with the following wish: “Bun de, bun ann a te, la bambona a me” (Have a good day, a happy new year to you, and gift for me!).
Epiphany – 6th January
Children used to be told that “Dunacia”, a horrible woman, would come down the chimney to punish naughty children. Children who had been good however would find little presents in the shoes which they had placed outside their door. The house and barn would be filled with incense to banish bad luck. And the initials of the Three Kings would be chalked on the door post.
Nowadays it’s the children, or sometimes the adults, who dress up as Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar and go from house to house with their star and incense, singing hymns and collecting money for projects in developing countries.
The faithful gather olive twigs which are solemnly blessed in front of the church. Children decorate long branches with catkins, olive twigs and colourful ribbons. All move into the church in a procession to celebrate Mass. The olive twigs are then taken home and attached to the crucifix, while the twigs from the previous year are burned.
On the 19th March, the Feast of St. Joseph, eligible lads go to the house of the girl they would like to woo, to order Easter eggs. They then collect the eggs on Easter Monday. According to the custom, the girls may give any boy two Easter eggs, but if she gives him four, this means that she has definitely turned him down. On the other hand, she will have prepared six eggs for her bridegroom. On the Tuesday after Easter, or on the following Sunday, the eggs are used in a game of “egg tapping” on the church or village square, where two people each hold an egg and tap one egg against the other. The winner is the one whose egg doesn’t break, and who then gets the other egg as well.
On Easter Sunday, specially decorated baskets containing ‘speck’ (a kind of bacon), Easter eggs, horse radish and pretzels are taken to the church to be blessed.
The Feast of the Assumption – 15th August
Walking through our beautiful countryside you will notice the flower beds laid out in front of the houses and on the edge of the vegetable gardens. These flowers are used for the artfully decorated baskets which are taken to the church to be blessed on the important Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The flowers are then dried and mixed in with the fodder of the domestic animals.