|Val Gardena is full of traditions and customs. There is no reason why nostalgia should be the automatic response to times gone by. In the past, life was hard, and privation was the rule. But there was variety too, with an annual calendar – indeed the whole life – made up of a succession of mostly rustic customs and celebrations.
New Year’s wishes, Shrovetide and Easter customs, the processions of decorated cattle brought down from the mountains before winter, and much more besides gave a special character and spirit to everyday life and holidays alike.
Today Advent is the traditional time for processions, for St. Nicholas ("San Miculau") and the "tléca nocht". Those are the Thursday evenings when youngsters in disguise go from house to house, playing their music and singing the old songs and receiving little gifts in return.
The New Year too, is a time for music, and the children and youngsters come round singing traditional songs.
The ladin language
"Bënunì te Gherdëina!" - Welcome to Val Gardena!
When the locals talk to each other, they mostly speak a language called Ladin. The origins of the language go back to the Roman Empire, when the legions marched into Rhaetia. The Latin of the conquerors was mixed with the language of the native Rhaetians. During more than four centuries of Roman rule, this Rhaetian language spread from the Swiss Alps to the Adriatic. When the Germanic tribes of the Bavarians and Alemanni moved south in the 6th century, the area of the Rhaetian language was split up, leaving enclaves in which the language has survived against all obstacles right down to the present day, e.g. in the canton of Grisons, in the Dolomites (Val Gardena, Val Badia, Val di Fassa, Livinallongo, Cortina) and Friuli. The fact that the Rhaetian language was once much more widespread can be seen from the ancient field and place names found in Val d’Isarco/Eisacktal or the upper Val Venosta/Vinschgau. Because of the small size of the remaining area, the Ladin language could not develop like other roman languages, e.g. Portuguese or Provençal, and conversely it was more susceptible to change. Nevertheless, the sounds of the Ladin tongue will continue to be heard in these valleys for generations to come. Nowadays Rhaeto-Romanic is taught at school as an obligatory school subject. Furthermore books and magazines are published in this language. There are also daily programmes on radio and TV.
Val Gardena wood carving. A long tradition.
The sense for art in Val Gardena is known all over the world, especially the sacral and profane wood carving art. Seeing with the hands, feeling with the eyes: this is how handcrafts become art. Feelings, imagination and will take shape. Wood carving has a long history in Val Gardena. It developed at the start of the 17th century in order to get through the long winters. Up to one hundred years ago, Val Gardena was still a secluded high-alpine valley, which was difficult to access. Hence, the inhabitants were forced to make a second income. Wood carving in winter, and distributing and selling all over the world in summer. Necessity developed into art, and the most precious pieces can be visited in the Ladin Museum.