Festival of the "sampùgn" cow-bells"

The first of March is a special day for the communities in the Valmalenco. This day has always been linked to the deep-rooted, agricultural tradition and culture in this area from times gone by. It is the day of the “Festival of the Sampugn”,a traditional celebration in spring, which originates from very popular pagan rites throughout the Italian Alpine area.

According to Angelo and Pina, one of the oldest couples in the village of Lanzada, since they were children the first of March was always referred to as el dì de andà a ciamà l’erba. They would get up early to go to school (the children of Ganda, Vetto and Tornadri attended the scöla dé Vétt -the school in the hamlet of Vetto - whereas those in the districts of Centro and Moizi went to the one in Lanzada). Each one carried their own bell which they rang energetically as they walked the stretch of road to reach the schools: this ritual was supposed to awaken the grass after the long winter. The sampùgn couldn't be taken into the classroom and so they were left in a corner of the corridor or under the school stairs.

As you can imagine, the children competed to see who had the biggest or the most beautiful bell.

When lessons finished for the day, everyone ran home for lunch and then met up in groups during the afternoon in the meadows around the village to ring the sampùgn once again at the call of spring.

Another important moment of the day was the evening meal. Every hamlet had two or three elderly women who would prepare polenta taragna (made with buckwheat flour) and sausages, and feed about twenty children. Each child brought something, a bit of flour for the polenta, a tiny piece of cheese, a sausage, cunsc (pork fat) or gravisun (little pieces of meat that emerged from the pork fat). They would sit on wooden benches around the fire and wait for the polenta to cook.

In the municipality of Spriana, there was a large boulder above the district of Cucchi, called Sàs di sampogn, on which the children gathered to ring the bells on the first of March to "call the grass". This was the official beginning of spring and on that date the children took off their traditional footwear, (pedùli and clogs in particular, very rarely shoes) and went péscin, barefoot.

In times gone by, the first of March was certainly a special day, as the survival of all the families was closely linked to the cycle of the seasons and haymaking time.

However, the tradition continues today: on the 1st March each year, families with their children gather in the afternoon to watch the procession through the streets of the village to the sound of the bells ringing out. In the evening, everyone meets in the village restaurants to eat polenta taragna and sausages.