The Krampus, Saint Lucy and the “Canta della Stella”
In December, the mountains and valleys come alive with moving Christmas traditions
Winter’s here again, and with it come the usual cold and darkness which seem to penetrate everywhere, from the mountain tops to the fields, from the village streets to the most remote alpine farmsteads. This cold and darkness however create the perfect atmosphere for story-telling and seem to invite you to take a step back into the past.
Indeed, it’s the ideal time of year for bringing Alpine traditions back to life, when the cheerful hustle and bustle of the Christmas season warm up the atmosphere and seem to exorcise ancient fears. Don’t be surprised then when you hear the loud clanging of the bells worn by the Krampus, a horde of mischievous demons, or the clattering of the tin cans that children drag along behind them to celebrate Saint Lucy, or Santa Lucia. Don’t be surprised either if, at the same time, your senses are distracted by the inviting aroma of mulled wine and roast chestnuts. These are some of the more fascinating Christmas traditions in Trentino, ancient tales and customs handed down from generation to generation. Discover them with us!
Saint Nicholas and the Krampus
December begins with the eternal battle between Good and Evil. Don’t be alarmed however as, like in all great stories, the light always triumphs over the darkness. It’s precisely in this period that it’s possible to witness the festivals and processions dedicated to Saint Nicholas, when the Krampus, terrible demons, visit towns and villages, mischievously chasing both children and adults alike. Luckily Saint Nicholas comes to the rescue! He can be seen arriving handing out sweets and pastries to those children who have been well-behaved while at the same time keeping the pesky demons at bay.
Once, the Krampus would wear simple wooden masks and drape an old goat hide over their shoulders. Today they’re far more terrifying, sometimes quite daunting as they lumber about on stilts, with elaborate masks that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror movie. Watch that they don’t pounce on you!
Saint Lucy and the “Strozegade”
A young lady with her face covered by a veil, to symbolise her blindness, and a little donkey by her side: this is Saint Lucy, or Santa Lucia, a well-meaning maiden that, on the night of December 12th enters the homes of children across Trentino bringing gifts of sweets or toys. Here she’s almost more important than Father Christmas!
Of course, the children are expected to get her attention and thus, that evening they form long, noisy processions through the streets of towns and villages. Each child is equipped with his or her very own “strozega”, a long string with numerous cans and tins attached, and they drag it noisily behind them. The frosty air and the scent of snow, typical at this time of year, have never stopped the children from taking to the streets in search of sweets and the traditional donkey-shaped bread rolls. Adults join in too, with cups of hot tea or mulled wine. Later that evening all return home and, before going to bed, make sure they leave out a dish with some salt for the donkey and some milk and biscuits for Saint Lucy. Fingers crossed she’ll remember us too!
La Canta della Stella
Translated roughly as “The Chant of the Star”, this ancient tradition is still alive and well in some areas of Trentino (especially in the Valle dei Mocheni, in the Piana Rotaliana, on the highlands of Pinè and in the Val di Cembra) and celebrates the Epiphany. The Three Wise Men, accompanied by a procession of choir singers (quite often the children of the area, at other times youths of the same age-group), meander through the towns and villages knocking on doors and singing Christmas carols to announce the arrival of baby Jesus. It’s a common practice to mark their passing by writing the initials of the Three Wise Men with chalk on the doors of the homes and farmsteads they’ve visited, boding well for the coming year.