Annual traditions of Graubünden
In Graubünden, ancient customs and traditions are given pride of place. Every year, centuries-old traditions are observed in the local communities and villages.
'Twelfth Night and Carol Singers'
In Catholic regions, children dressed as the Three Kings go from house to house on Twelfth Night. They sing old and new Epiphany carols and religious airs from the 17th century. Often, the kings are accompanied by someone carrying a star, as well as by servants or soldiers. Dressed in colourful costumes with glittering crowns, they make their way through the villages, collecting money for child relief organisations – as well as for sweets!
Every year, on a Sunday in January or February, the inhabitants of Oberengadin celebrate the 'Schlitteda Engadinaisa'. The exact date of this village festival is decided by the 'Guiventüna', a committee of young men. On this occasion, the villagers – dressed in their traditional red-and-black Engadin costumes – embark on a two-hour ride through the snow-clad countryside in festively decorated horse-drawn sleighs. In the old days, only unmarried couples took part in the 'Schlitteda'. A young man would formally invite his girl to accompany him on the sleigh ride. Over the years, this custom has turned into a village festival for both singles and married couples alike. The 'Schlitteda Ball' brings the festivities to a fitting end.
February / March
On the first Sunday of Lent, the young men of Untervaz leave home at dusk and make their way up to a place overlooking the village, each carrying a burning torch, a long hazel stick and discs made of beechwood. At the agreed spot, each of them places his disc on the end of the stick, lights it with the torch until it glows red-hot and then propels it from the starting ramp into the valley below. As each disc is thrown, the young man shouts out a dedication to a special girl or unmarried woman. Afterwards, there is a torchlight procession accompanied by a brass band. Back in the village, the young men visit the girls, who serve them food and drink. This ancient tradition is also celebrated in similar fashion in the Surselva region.
On 1 March, children wearing peasant smocks and pointed red caps make their way through the village singing songs, ringing cowbells and cracking whips. The din is supposed to drive away the winter. The tradition of 'Chalandamarz' is beautifully described in the famous Swiss children’s book 'Schellenursli' ('A Bell for Ursli'). This custom exists in the valleys of Engadin, Müstair, Bergell, Puschlav, Misox, Oberhalbstein and Albula, although it may vary from village to village. In Scuol, a whip-cracking contest is held. In Ftan, the 'Chalandamarz' resembles a carnival procession – young men dress up and torment the girls with inflated pigs’ bladders. In Poschiavo and Misox a snowman is burned as a symbol of winter.
After the snows have melted, the men and boys from Furna meet on two or three Sundays to play 'Hürnä', a simpler version of the Swiss sport of 'Hornussen'. 'Hürnä' is only played in this village in Prättigau. The wooden starting block is set up at the bottom of the slope. The target area lies about 20 metres higher up. Players have to propel the 'Huri' (a wooden disc rather like the puck used in ice hockey) from the starting block into the target area, using a two-metre-long hazel stick. The defending team tries to stop the Huri in mid air with shovel-like catching boards. Every Huri reaching the target area without being caught scores a point. If the Huri hits a member of the catching team, the throwing team scores two points.
For nearly 160 years – since 1854 – schoolchildren in Chur have made an annual trip to the alpine pastures, the 'Maiensässfahrt', on a sunny day in May. At seven in the morning about 3,000 schoolchildren and their teachers leave the town through its upper gateway and proceed to the surrounding alpine pastures, where they spend the day playing and enjoying a barbecue. In the evening, the townsfolk line up to welcome the children back. This is followed by a procession to the Quaderwiese. After the official speeches everyone sings traditional songs to mark the occasion. The highlight of the day is when one of the teachers calls out to the children: "... there will be no school tomorrow!"
May / June
'Kränzli and Tschäppel'
Every year on Ascension Day, mothers and grandmothers in Prättigau pick gentians, forget-me-nots, buttercups, daisies and other spring flowers growing in this region. The flowers are intricately woven into garlands for their daughters and granddaughters. The boys receive sprays of flowers, known as 'Tschäppel', which they affix to their lapels. Thus adorned and dressed in either traditional costume or their Sunday best, the villagers make their way to the church, where a special service is held. In Luzein and Pany, the children have the honour of being driven to the church by pony cart. Each village celebrates Ascension Day a little differently, and there is often a festive procession before or after the church service.
The ancient tradition of 'Kastanien-Klopfen' (chestnut tapping) is encountered only in Bergell. In this region the chestnuts are dried for five to six weeks in special huts ('Cascine'). During the merry festivities in November the inhabitants of Bergell 'tap' the chestnuts to separate the fruit from the shell. In most of Italian-speaking Switzerland and the Bergell region of Graubünden, chestnuts were a staple food of the population for hundreds of years. In the old days, it also used to be considered very important to store the chestnuts correctly in purpose-built outhouses. To this day, the people of Bergell celebrate the chestnut festival every autumn in honour of 'their' chestnut.
In Scuol, the villagers celebrate the end of the year on 31 December by making little candlelit boats or 'Barchinas', as they are called in the Vallader dialect of Romansh. This festival of lights is of pagan origin. On New Year’s Eve, the children fill little boats made from walnut shells or bark with liquid wax and provide them with a wick. Then they light them and float them on the village fountain in the old part of Scuol. The significance of this festival is the celebration of the winter solstice on 21 or 22 December, but it now takes place a few days later to make room for the Christian festival of Christmas. The floating candlelit boats serve to symbolise the victory of light over the darkness of night.