Quirky Alpine Traditions

21 March 2017

Quirky Alpine Traditions

Ever wondered where the art of yodeling comes from, or why female cows are allowed to fight each other for the title of ‘Queen’ in the Alps? Our beloved mountain range holds many weird and wonderful traditions and we thought we’d share a few with you! Store them up to amaze your fellow chairlift companions on your next ski holiday!

 

Cow fighting in Valais. Cow fights are exclusive to the region of Valais, where title of "Queen Cow" is fought over every year. But this is not bull-fighting but rather female cows battling against each other for the crown! In this pushing/pulling contest, the cow that holds her own against all opponents is adorned with flowers and the largest bell to jangle her way to new pastures. On top of this, she will get to lead the cow herd as they migrate to their Alpine summer pastures... The specific breed that fight are the ancient, traditional breed Herens, cows with a highly antagonistic temperament. It was their nature that led to the development of the tradition of cow fighting, drawing many breeders and a large audience to the area.

 

Alpine Beard Festival. This event, which is now in its 32nd year, is so popular it draws thousands of spectators. The Swiss festival features food stalls, musical performances, and of course, many beards! As part of the Chur festival this competition celebrates the typical Alpine ‘look’, with the men donning pastoral traditional clothing, perhaps with pipe and a small hat. Their beard will be judged on it’s length, texture, shaping and overall ‘magnificence’!

 

The Cows’ descent. The return to the valley from alpine pastures at the end of summer is celebrated with many festivals and gatherings all over the Alps. The sound of cowbells are heard all the way down the valley and alpine farmers proudly and happily wear the traditional costume of the local area. Each town will have specific timings to watch the spectacle, the cows will be adorned in flowers and splendid cowbells and there is a lively atmosphere amongst the farmers, locals and tourists. The purpose of this parade is to show case the cheese that the farmers have been making with the milk from their herd, which is some of the richest and most flavoursome milk one can find anywhere around the world!

 

Flag throwing. This is one of the oldest national sports in Switzerland, participants throw the square national flag in a range of 99 different ‘swings’, it looks like a very easy and tranquil sport but it is incredibly strenuous and deeply skillful. The whole show is usually accompanied by traditional alphorn blowing as part of the customs displayed at folk festivals and of course some yodeling too! It was first begun in the Medieval Ages and the flag represents purity, which is why it must not touch the ground whilst being thrown. It was brought to Switzerland by Swiss mercenaries who had been serving in foreign European armies.

 

Yodelling. Whether this brings images of Maria and her many wards staging their puppet show in ‘The Sound of Music’ or rather portly men in an Alpine drinking establishment, this form of music is an ancient tradition that dates back centuries. In fact the earliest record of a ‘yodel’ was in 1545, where it is described as "the call of a cowherd from Appenzell". It is a form of singing which involves repeated and rapid changes of pitch between the low-pitch chest register and the high-pitch falsetto. The English word ‘yodel’ is taken from the German word jodeln, meaning "to utter the syllable jo" (pronounced "yo" in English). Interestingly it is used in many cultures worldwide. Most experts agree that yodeling was used in the Central Alps by herders calling their stock or to communicate between Alpine villages. It is still used daily by the Swiss Amish, mainly found living and farming in the state of Indiana, USA.

 

Pfingstbluttlern. (Well Dipping)- This is possibly one of the most peculiar traditions that we’ve come across, found in the Swiss town of Ettingen. When the tradition actually emerged is unknown however it has had a few revivals in the last few decades. It is a celebration of fertility and to encourage women to become pregnant; the young men of the town would dress up as trees (covering their bodies in beech wood leaves and branches) and sneak up on the young women of the town. They will then grab them, carry them to the nearby well and dunk them in the water. Their woodland costume is meant to be simulating fauns and forest spirits!

 

Alphorn Blowing. One of the first wooden instruments documented globally, together with the didgeridoo, the African horn and the Indian trumpet; the Alphorn is a traditional method of communication between shepherds themselves, for their flocks and the people down in the valley below. Although it is not used as a communicative method anymore it still remains firmly within the Alpine tradition as a musical instrument. Over 70 hours of manual labour will be needed just to hollow out the pipe, in order to reach it’s thickness of 4 to 7 millimetres, traditionally made from crooked pines growing in steep places, but now made from ash or carbon. There are now 1,800 Alphorn blowers in Switzerland and around the world, joining as members to the Swiss Yodeling Association.