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Piping in Christmas

by Fabio Bonvicini last modified 2008-06-20 15:12

For many Italians the first sign of Christmas is the sound of zampogne wafting through the air. We rediscover this traditional instrument and the groups that keep its music alive

ZampognariChristmas, the festival of Christ's birth is celebrated throughout the Christian world. After Easter it is the most important festival in the Church year. All over Italy time-worn rites and traditions ring in the festive period. Indeed don't be surprised if not all of these traditions seem entirely Christian as many of them stem from ancient pagan and rural festivals. Indeed Christmas falls at the winter solstice, just before the advent of the new solar year.

A heady mixture of the sacred and profane that makes for a period of merry-making and festivities second to none, where music is centre-stage. Christmas music in Italy means for many zampogne (reed pipes, similar to bagpipes). Itinerant musicians can be seen busking in the streets, playing in the Christmas markets and zampognari (pipers) are a fundamental part of any self-respecting Italian crib. The zampogna, traditionally a pastoral instrument, plays an important part in the lead-up to Christmas. However both it and the oboe-like ciaramella hold a fundamental place in the Italian folk tradition which is evident from music events such as the Scapoli Festival in Molise or the Madonna del Pollino Festival in Basilicata. But this is Christmas, and Christmas in Italy wouldn't be quite the same with the strains of the zampogna floating through the air.

For many pipers Christmas means the chance of work and a number of groups have scheduled a series of travelling shows which evoke the old usage of itinerant musicians and brighten the Christmas period with the ancient sounds of the reed pipes.Every town, in every area in every region has its own way of celebrating Christmas. From the Chiara stella (a colourful illuminated star) in Veneto to the ciocco di Natale (the Christmas log which is left to burn all night) in Emilia, from the decorations around the cowsheds in Tuscany to Panettone (Italian Christmas cake) in Lombardy, from the festa delle fiaccole (a torch-lit procession) in Piedmont to the colourful cribs of Naples and the ‘Nferte (collections of poetry and writing that are given as presents) in Campania to the fireworks, cribs and banquets that are commonplace throughout Italy during the Christmas period. Thanks to these and many other traditions Christmas still retains some of its unique flavour and atmosphere despite the pressures of our consumer society.

travelling shows - (Italian only)

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