A synthesis between German and Carnic culture
The difficulty to gain access to this area, its harshness and the presence of a German-speaking population have nurtured the myth of the outside world considering Sauris an isolated community, in which its environment, language and traditions have allegedly remained intact over the centuries. But history teaches us that “islands” do not exist. Documents and studies have clearly demonstrated that right from the beginning, the people of Sauris have opened paths where none previously existed, it has crossed the passes and the mountains, establishing relations with neighbouring populations, bartering produce with them, learning their languages and observing their customs.
Many of the traditions of the population of Sauris are the result of a fascinating combination of several cultures, particularly German and Carnic, that have contributed to the development of the peculiar identity of the community. Besides certain aspects and elements of material culture (types of architecture, the preservation and preparation of food, agricultural tools and techniques, clothing in use up until a few decades ago); it is, above all, evident in the religious and symbolic field that the most interesting and vital traditions have been preserved.
The “Giro della stella” (Tour of the Star), pilgrimages and processions
In the period between Christmas and Epiphany, a collection of augural alms takes place. In the “Giro della Stella” (Tour of the Star) both young people and adults tour the villages, on different dates, with a coloured, illuminated star, chanting traditional Christmas carols in ancient German, Italian and Latin (“i Canti della Stella” (The Songs of the Star” and Stearnliedlan). On the first day of the year there are children who tour the villages, going from one house to another, singing an augural song in the Sauris language and receiving sweets, dried fruit and a few coins in exchange. In Lateis, on the same day, the adult carollers also go from house to house singing “Veni Creator Spiritus”.
During the Holy Week, the children run through the streets shaking their noisy rattles (“kretcars” and “tovln”). The loud noise of these instruments replaces the sound of the belts, while in the churches the Passion and the Death of Christ are commemorated. On Good Friday, the Via Crucis (The Way of the Cross) in Sauris di Sopra is particularly moving, during which the cross is carried in procession along with symbols of the Passion of Christ.
The various hamlets celebrate their festivals in honour of their patron saints as well as certain Marian festivals. In these and in other special occasions, the ritual blessings are carried out (water, salt and fruit at Epiphany, bread at Easter and the blessed bouquet of flowers on 8th September, to commemorate Our Lady’s date of birth).
In the third week of September, there is the pilgrimage to the Carinthian sanctuary of Maria Luggau, a tradition that was deeply-rooted in past centuries but which was abandoned at the beginning of the 20th century and re-introduced over past decades. The procession on food goes through the Val Pesarina and Sappada Valleys, where the pilgrims in Sauris and other villages unite with those from the Sappada Valley to reach the Lesachtal sanctuary.
A tradition celebrated to leave winter behind
As from the 1990s, following a period of abandonment, the traditional Carnival ritual has been re-introduced with a few, inevitable changes.
The masqueraders are divided into beautiful (scheana schembln) and ugly ones (schentana schembln) and they wear, depending on their type, old clothes and hats decorated with paper flowers and coloured ribbons; they wear wooden masks, veils or simply soot on their faces (rues). Other Sauris carnival characters include Rölar and Kheirar. At the call of the Rölar, with his large belt decorated with noisy cowbells (röln), the masqueraders gather and go through the streets of the town, following the Kheirar and the musicians. In the past, the Kheirar, with his large stable broom, would enter the homes and invite couples of masqueraders to dance, while he swept the floor between the exit of one couple and the entry of another, to symbolically sweep away winter and the negative forces and to make room for Spring and all things new.
Cereals, dairy products and smoked meats
The scarcity of local agricultural products, due to the climate and characteristics of this territory, has influenced dietary habits, resulting in cuisine based on only a few dishes made with simple, yet substantial ingredients, suitable for the heavy work and intense pace that people in Sauris were subjected to for several months a year.
Housewives could rely on certain “minor” cereals (barley, rye), buckwheat, milk and its derivatives, the meat of domestic animals, game, wild herbs and produce from the vegetable garden, turnips, head cabbage and broad beans.
Broad beans in particular, resistant to cold weather and which can be grown at high altitudes, probably arrived in Sauris together with the early settlers. They were used in everyday cooking instead of normal beans and they were also used in the exchange of goods when bartering with neighbouring towns. The importance of broad beans in the dietary traditions of the Sauris people can also be measured by the frequency with which they appear in proverbs, rhymes and idiomatic expressions.
Another important crop was the cabbage. It could be eaten fresh or it could alternatively be preserved by fermentation, to obtain a final product (khraut) that could be consumed during the winter months, or bartered for beans or fruit.
Turnips, gradually replaced by potatoes, were introduced into Sauris at the beginning of 19th century, with excellent results.
The production of dairy products was also significant. The proceeds obtained from top quality marketable dairy products, were used to buy imported goods: wheat, corn, fruit, spices and especially salt, indispensable for human and animal consumption as well as for the preservation of certain foodstuffs. For this reason, butter and cheese were only eaten on very special occasions (hard labour, illness, births, weddings, funerals, important holidays). Instead, a special kind of cheese preserved in brine was quite frequently consumed. Ricotta cheese was used on a daily basis, preserved by smoking or fermentation.
Smoking was used especially to preserve meat and was probably introduced into Sauris by the first settlers and the people of Sauris became masters in smoking techniques.
Among the types of meat obtained from domestic animals, those most popular included mutton and pork. This latter, in particular, guaranteed the survival of every family, provided them with lard, bacon, sausages, blood-pudding and cooking fat. Today, Sauris is a synonym of ham. In fact, also ham was obtained from pigs, yet in the past, this delicacy rarely reached the table of the people who produced it as most of it was destined to be sold on the market.