Christmas Traditions in South Tyrol
A typical Adventkranz, Advent wreath
Christmas Season in South Tyrol
If you are lucky enough to be in South Tyrol during the month of December, you will experience the magical atmosphere of the Advent season and its traditions.
But what exactly is the Advent season?
The Advent is a liturgical time right before Christmas, a time observed by many Christian Churches and the time of waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term “Advent” derives from the Latin word of “coming” and in a broader sense means also “waiting”.
How do South Tyroleans prepare for the Advent season?
One of the first tradition that we observe during Advent is the Adventkranz in German – Corona D’Avvento in Italian, (Advent Wreath or Advent Crown). It is usually made by a horizontal evergreen wreath and four candles, symbolizing the four weeks before Christmas. The shape symbolize God’s infinite Love and the evergreen symbolize the hope of Eternal life. The candles represent the light brought upon men during Christmas as well as the Christian principals of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Families usually made it by hand but it can also be bought at the florist and can be decorated with berries, wraps and spices. The first candle is lit with the beginning of the first Sunday of Advent and additional candles will be lit at the passing of each week until the last Sunday before Christmas when all the candles will be lit together. Usually the wreath is kept on the dining table in the Stube, the warmest room of the house and each Sundays the family gather around it and pray together.
But who invented it?
It was actually the Protestant Pastor Johann Hinrich Wichern that in 1860 first introduced it in a Berlin orphanage. It originally spread only in the Northern Germans cities, in schools, orphanages and churches and eventually later on was also adopted in private houses. By 1920 the tradition became also popular within the Catholic Church.
The Advent Calendar is a calendar that counts the days before Christmas. Originally used by German Lutherans in 19th and 20th century, it is now popular within many Christian denominations. With a rectangular shape, it usually depicts the Nativity scene, Saint Nicholas or winter scene, it is made out of 25 windows, one for each day until Christmas. Behind each calendar windows, there are images and little toys, or chocolates. Calendars are always fun and kids of all ages and adults too, always look forward to this time.
From the end of November until the 6th of January, the famous Christmas Markets take place everywhere in South Tyrol. You don’t need to travel all the way to Germany to experience the magical and festive atmosphere of Christmas! Even if you are not in South Tyrol but in the nearby more popular Italian cities like Milan, Verona and Venice, you should consider a day trip to Bolzano where the oldest and most visited Christmas market takes place.
If you are in town, don’t miss the chance to join “Bolzano Street Food Tour® Christmas Edition” a unique opportunity to learn about the town’s history, its most significant monuments, its culinary tradition with particular focus on the Christmas local dishes and an orientation to the Christmas market.
If you have more days to spend in South Tyrol, take the chance to visit another of the original markets offered in the nearby city of Merano, Bressanone, Brunico and Vipiteno, each of them with their own personality and charm. Definitely don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Christmas Market of the Episcopal town of Bressanone-Brixen and the light and music show of “Soliman's Dream” that takes place in the courtyard of the Hofburg-Bishop Palace. The show tells the story of the Elephant Soliman, a gift from the Portuguese King Joseph III to his nephew the Archiduke Maximilian II, that in 1551 traveled from India to Vienna. Right before Christmas it stopped in Brixen/Bressanone before continuing the journey to the North and the Inn keeper of a hotel, took care of the elephant for 14 days . The light show describe the long trip that the elephant and the royal travelers partook to reach their final destination. At its 3rd edition the show has attracted thousands of visitors and it’s a fantastic, enchanting holiday experience for the entire family.
Soliman's Dream Light and Music show. Photo credits: Valle Isarco Marketing
If you are looking for a more cozy, mountain-like Christmas Market take a trip to Lake Carezza, only 20’ away from Bolzano, and you find yourself in an amazing winter wonderland, surrounded by the fabulous background of Lake Carezza and the amazing view of the Dolomites: the Rosengarten and Latemar Mountain range. Wooden stalls shaped as oversize lanterns, typical South Tyrolean products and crafts, snow and ice sculptures, these are just some of the uniqueness of this market.
Christmas Market at Lake Carezza. Photo credits Eggental
Bolzano Christmas Market is located on Walther's Square. Photo credits: IDM Südtirol-Alto Adige/Alex Filz
Sankt Nikolaus/San Nicolo’
Sankt Nikolaus or San Nicolo' (in English Saint Nicholas) was a Christian Saint originally from what we nowadays call Turkey. Famous for many miracles and considered the saint of sailors, ships, fishermen and protector of children, he was also known for secret gift-giving, such as leaving coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him.
Between the 5th and 6th December in many towns and villages in South Tyrol there are parades during which Saint Nicholas, distributes candies to the well-behaved children from a carriage pulled by horses. Helping him on this task, are little Angels and the Krampus, "half-goats, half-demons", who on the other hand, punish children who have misbehaved by giving them charcoal. Behind the cart and surrounded by his Krampus, follows the devil himself, Krampa! Interesting fact, while the Krampus can only be men, Krampa can also be a woman. An event not to missed for the fearless and the darkness lovers is the Krampuslauf – the Krampus run, a parade of young men dressed as Krampus, with long hornes, scary masks, holding and shaking chains and making loud noises and screams. A very evocative and one of a kind experience!
The oldest and most popular Krampuslauf is in the town of Dobbiaco-Toblach, close to the famous Lake Braies, where 400 Krampus from Austria, Germany and South Tyrol walk through the historical town terrifying the public with scary mask and costumes.
Scary Krampus during the Krampuslauf
At Christmas Eve, New Years Eve and on the 6th of January is tradition in South Tyrol to bless the house and the family. The father followed by all the family members, bless each rooms, the outside of the house and the stables with incense. Following the blessing, they all gather in front of the nativity and sing Christmas carols.
The first day of the year, the Sternsinger, children or adults dressed as the Three Wise Men, go from house to house and sing Christmas carols in exchange of donations. Those that donate receive a piece of charcoal, incense and a piece of chalk. The first two are burned and used to bless the house while the chalk is used to write on top of the house door the inscription 20+C+M+B+ the last two digits of the new year. The letters stand for the initials of the Three Wise Man, Caspar, Melchiorre and Baldassare or according to Church they are referring to the Latin inscription "Christus Mansionem Benedicat", Christ bless this house. If you are staying in one of the many alpine villages over this time of the year you might be able to actually see this tradition being carried on.
If you are interested in discover more of beautiful South Tyrol and its traditions during this magic time of the year or need help to plan your accommodation and activities, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We would love to share our experience and knowledge of the territory with you!