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Chalandamarz is an ancient tradition and festival that is celebrated by the Romansh speaking part of the Swiss Canton Graubünden. It is celebrated on the first of March and marks the end of winter and the arrival of spring.
The name of the festival refers to the first day of March, on which it is celebrated, the Romansh term chalanda, stemming from the Latin word calandae, meaning "first day of the month".
Chalandamarz dates as far back as the time when southeastern Switzerland, or Raetia, was part of the Roman Empire, and therefore the tradition is probably older than Christianity, and some records say it is even older than the Roman empire. Chalandamarz is still celebrated in the Engadin valley, the Val Müstair, Oberhalbstein valley and Albula valley, but not it Sutselva and Surselva. It is a pagan festival, and the object is to mark the beginning of a new year in spring, to scare away the evil spirits of winter and wake up the good spirits of spring. The means the spirits are supposedly roused is through noise, which comes from large old cowbells, whips and singing. On the first of March, and often at least one day before, the boys of each village go around and ring bells and sing. Girls traditionally don’t take part in this, but in some villages girls carry baskets around to gather money, and in some villages they carry bells too. Often the boys march around the village fountains, and go into the old houses and sing. After this, there is often whipping. In the evening on the first of March, there is often a party with dancing. The procession of boys at Chalandamarz is often led by the oldest boys who are due to leave school the following year. These are known as Patruns (meaning „masters“ in Romansh).
Bells and Whips.
Bells and whips are commonly used at Chalandamarz. There are many different types, and they are organized into families.
Talacs. Talacs are small bells and the only ones which are still worn by cows in the Engadin (most others are much too heavy).
Plumpas. These are some of the largest bells, often made of bronze or brass to provide good sound.
Maruns. These are round bells made of steel in a thin layer, and often black in colour. The largest of these are the largest bells in Chalandamarz, up to half a metre in diameter.
Brunzinas. These bells are of a more widely recognized shape. They are often brass and make a unique sound. They are sometimes worn only by girls in villages where they too carry bells.
Zampuogns. Zampuogns are slightly different from other bells, but not as eccentric and brunzinas. From the outside they are very smooth, made of bronze and brass and can easily crack. Their ringer is very thick and it often produces a low but clear sound. They are heavier than regular plumpas.
Rolls. Rolls are large belts with roll-bells attached. They are often worn by the oldest boys, the youngest or the oldest Patruns. Some villages still retain the tradition of using horses to pull the boys to smaller villages on the outskirts of the main village, and in this case the horses wear them.
Whips. Whips produce deafening cracks to scare the spirits of winter away. Many are fooled by the illusion that the sound is caused by the whip striking the ground, but it is actually caused by air rushing around a small piece of string at the end of the whip. Whips are often carried by Patruns during the Chalandamarz procession and these often pretend to hit the younger boys as a joke.
Although Chalandamarz follows the basic principles throughout the area where it is practised, the detailes greatly vary from village to village. The following varieties exist:
Chalandamarz in Pontresina-Punt Muragl
Chalandamarz in St. Moritz
Chalandamarz in Celerina
Chalandamarz in Samedan
Chalandamarz in Bever
Chalandamarz in La Punt
Chalandamarz in S-chanf-Chapella
Chalandamarz in Zernez
Chalandamarz in Susch
Chalandamarz in Lavin
Chalandamarz in Guarda
Chalandamarz in Ardez
Chalandamarz in Ftan
Chalandamarz in Scuol-Tarasp
Chalandamarz in Val Müstair
Chalandamarz in Oberhalbstein Valley
Chalandamarz in Albula Valley