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The pipers of the Christmas tradition
During the Christmas period there are still many rituals and traditions that are held in the squares and streets of the Italian cities. One of the typical figures at this time of the year are the bagpipers who travel throughout Italy playing the Zampogna and the bagpipes. Italian traditions will guide you on the discovery of this pastoral tradition and will explain exactly what it consists of. We will also talk about the instruments that are used. Finally we will tell you all about their pilgrimage throughout Italy during the Christmas holidays.
Who are the zampognari?
he pipers are characters dressed in sheep skins, very similar to shepherds in their way of dressing, but that are distinguished from the latter for their inevitable travel companion: the Zampogna, an archaic musical instrument. The pipers belong to the Christmas tradition of the center and South of Italy and can usually be seen enlivening the streets of the cities playing the traditional Christmas songs, usually in pairs: one plays the real zampogna while the other uses the shawm or other traditional wind instruments.
What is the zampogna?
The Zampogna is the typical instrument used by the Zampognari. It is, to be precise an aerophone bag equipped with five pipes inserted inside a stump where the bag is bound. Only two of the pipes change tones, while the other three emit a fixed note. The pipes end with reeds that can be single or double. There are different types of this traditional instrument from southern Italy. They are especially popular in the following central and Southern Italian regions:
The origin of the zampognari
The origin of the zampognari -and as a result of the zampogna-dates back to times when Christmas still didn’t exist. The first written testimony about it dates back to Nerone’s time. The terrible Roman Emperor liked to play an instrument very similar to the Zampogna. Beyond ancient legends, however, the instrument appears particularly linked to the tales of the God Pan spread in ancient Greece and to the pastoral life especially during the periods of migratory herding.
The bagpipes: the instrument popular in northern Italy
Bagpipes are a very similar instrument to the zampogna and for this reason they are often confused. However, bagpipes are definitely more recent, they date back to the medieval period and are widespread in the northern regions of Italy . The shape in which they are known today derives from instruments which firstly appeared in the seventeenth century in Western Europe, and has gone through various modifications since then, mainly on a regional basis.
Today there are mainly two types. One works with hot air while the other with cold air. The countries in which it is widespread are Scotland and Ireland. In fact the instrument is still played there even today.
The Italian Christmas holidays are characterised by the presence of coloured lights and music in the squares and streets of the cities. One of the most interesting figures are the pipers who play their instruments allowing the passers-by to get into the Christmas mood. Now that you know all about the zampognari you just have to see them for yourselves in the Italian cities.