Traditions and customs
”Bun dé y bun ann, Chël Bel Dî se lasces vire tröc agn, cun ligrëza y sanité, fortüna y benedisciun, sön chësc monn döt le bun, y ia en l’ater monn le paraîsc. Le bun dé a os y la bambona a mé!”
Children in the Val Badia recite this short rhyme on New Year’s Day. They go from house to house wishing “happiness and good health, fortune and blessings” for the New Year. In exchange they receive sweets or a small gift. It is one of the many Ladin traditions of the past that are slowly disappearing. In fact, many traditions and customs are no longer observed as they once were due to changing socio-economic structures: traditions strictly reflected the lifestyle and work practices of farmers who are, we might say, an “extinguishing species” in the Dolomite valleys. Particularly following the Second World War, agriculture, grazing, and cattle raising activities have diminished with a subsequent increase in the tourism industry. Today’s “modern world” has left very little room for customs and traditions handed down from previous generations.
Religious festivals, worldly celebrations and country fairs were once the only opportunities to break the monotony of everyday life. Traditions enhanced everyday life, they characterized religious festivals, and were a welcome diversion for all rural communities.
Many traditions and customs accompanied the most important events in rural communities: birth, baptism, wedding and death, the seasons of the year, the different activities associated with haymaking (hay and grain harvesting, retting and dressing flax, threshing), as well as courtship rituals. In fact, on particular occasions young men went to the “vila”. After timidly approaching the young ladies on Sundays after church, they anxiously awaited opportunities to meet in groups where the prettiest girls might be, to sing, dance and have fun in someone’s living room, under the ever-vigilant eyes of parents who never left them unaccompanied. On such occasions, the young suitors would ask the young lady they admired for a symbol or token in order to know if their feelings were returned or not. On St. Stephen’s Day (December 26), a young man in Val Badia, for example, would “make an order” to a young lady for a double-heart-shaped cake tied with a red ribbon to be picked up on Epiphany. Later the tradition evolved and, instead of a cake, the young lady would prepare a bouquet of flowers that her suitor would place in his hat. By accepting the “order”, the young lady made it clear that she returned her admirer’s feelings. Similarly on St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), young men would visit young ladies to order colored eggs which they would pick up on the Easter Monday. The most beautifully decorated hard-boiled egg would be given to the young man who had caught the young lady’s interest; her preferred suitor would receive three or six eggs, as well as other gifts; the rejected suitor would instead receive an egg with a written rejection on it. There were strict rules of behavior for a young couple that had become engaged, principally getting wed within a short time from the announcement of the engagement. Long engagements were seen as unfavorable by parents as well as the Church. Requesting a young lady’s hand in marriage to her parents, inviting relatives and friends, as well as wearing traditional dress were of utmost importance.
There are many important calendar events, symbols and customs that characterize the anthropological heritage of Ladin mountaineers. To name them all would be too much for our limited space. We therefore recommend visiting the websites and reading the publications listed in the footnotes. Here below are some of the traditions and customs that are still in use today, which haven’t disappeared with the changing times and economic well-being brought on by the tourist industry, and have survived thanks to the efforts of numerous unions and cultural associations.
One of the customs connected with weddings is the “sarada” or “sief”: On the way to the Church, the wedding procession is delayed by “barriers” (“sarada”) of the bride and groom’s friends. They play out scenes from the lives of the wedding couple, emphasizing their peculiarities and foibles. At the end of the performance, the “mënanovicia” (the man giving the bride away) has to pay a toll so that the wedding procession can continue on its way.
The “ciora müla”
On the wedding day, friends and acquaintances of the wedding party are often seen trying to sell the “ciora müla” (goat) to the “möt vedl” (bachelor) or to the “möta vedla” (spinster) – to the bride or groom’s unmarried brother or older sister. The goat is usually made out of wood, cloth or straw; sometimes it is a live animal.
St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 5th. Before children go to bed, they anxiously await the Saint’s visit. He is usually accompanied by two angels and a group of devils. “San Micurà” (St. Nicholas) goes from house to house, scolding children who have been naughty and praising those who have been good. Naughty children receive a rod; good children receive a bag of sweets, nuts and tangerines.
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