Christmas Musical Traditions in Europe. You won’t be able to do without them after reading here

Christmas is approaching, and we at SEA and YOU want to celebrate it in our own way. We want to pay homage to Christmas musical traditions in Europe, with its sounds, songs, musical instruments, and the magic of the holidays. All around the world, traditional songs are part of people’s lives, and the same is true in Europe, especially for some countries!

Musical traditions in Europe are an invaluable cultural heritage. This is evident from the number of tourists who travel every year just to see how Christmas is celebrated in other countries. A type of tourism is developed that we can define as MUSICAL tourism.
By musical tourism, we mean that type of cultural tourism that makes tourists travel for the love of music, focusing on the importance tourists give to musical traditions (in this article, we explain in detail what it entails).
For years, tourists have traveled to listen to Christmas musical traditions in Europe. Especially in Catholic countries like Spain, Portugal, and Italy, where Christmas is a deeply religiously celebrated holiday. Here, traditional music has created Christmas musical traditions that still represent an important part of the local population.

Such a strong connection between Christmas and traditional music makes it inconceivable to think of the holidays without certain songs, music, and traditions.

But now, let’s see together what these symbols of Christmas musical traditions in Europe are, and why you won’t be able to do without them after getting to know them.

Which are the countries that keep Christmas musical traditions alive in Europe?

There are three places that have kept their Christmas musical traditions alive in Europe more than anywhere else.
Portugal, Naples, and Granada.

These points, with their Christmas musical traditions, attract hundreds of tourists every year ready to immerse themselves in ancient Christmas songs.
Each of them has a specific symbol. Each of them has an ancient tradition. Each of them, with its specific traditional music, pays homage to Christmas as it sees fit.
These three places, these three jewels, are precisely the three places where traditional music in Europe is more alive than ever.
Portugal, Granada, and Naples live on musical tradition. All the tourists who disembark in these splendid places every year cannot help but notice that music plays a leading role in all occasions.
Music punctuates every moment of life in these three countries, whether it’s village festivals, traditional holidays like Easter or Christmas, or celebrations like weddings or birthdays, there’s never a moment without the traditional music of the place.

The Zampognaro in Naples. An old Christmas musical tradition that still plays in the streets

To say Christmas in Naples means evoking a whole series of unmistakable images, sounds, and scents.
Napulitanata knows this well; it is the concert hall for classic Neapolitan songs in Naples, and over the years, it has consolidated some musical traditions like that of the Christmas zampognari.
The streets of the Neapolitan city are flooded every year, towards December, with the unmistakable struffoli (balls of fried dough dipped in honey), roccocò, and mostaccioli. Not to mention the famous Via dei Presepi, Via San Gregorio Armeno, one of the most characteristic streets in Naples, where artisans prepare figurines for nativity scenes all year round, from the most classic and canonical to the most extravagant. It’s not difficult, in fact, to find a figurine of Maradona, Obama, and the Pope.

Undoubtedly, the symbol of Christmas musical tradition in Naples is the figure of the zampognaro. If in Naples you hear music coming from a strange musical instrument similar to bagpipes, rest assured, it’s the zampognaro with his bagpipes!

But who is the zampognaro?

The zampognaro was a shepherd who played the bagpipes to call the flock. Spread throughout southern Italy, the zampognaro accompanied transhumance along its entire route with his wind instrument.
The bagpipes are an ancient instrument. It comes from the Greek Utriculus flute, which diversifies into various bagpipes around the world, including the bagpipes.
It is precisely its connection with the pastoral world that brought it into the Christmas musical tradition of Naples.

During the novena period (9 days until Christmas Eve), the zampognaro goes around PLAYING and SINGING songs from the Christmas musical tradition, where the most famous is Quanno nascette Ninno, but perhaps you know it as… TU SCENDI DALLE STELLE, which is just a translation of the original Neapolitan text by Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori. It was the bishop who in the 18th century created the myth of the zampognari, inaugurating a new Christmas musical tradition.
The bishop, in fact, gathered the poor from the streets and brought them along to sing. The zampognari, there too, served to coordinate the shepherd and his “flock” with the instrument of the Christmas musical tradition of Naples.

Cantar as Janeiras. Singing in Portugal going from house to house

The janeiras (January songs) are the true Christmas spirit of Portugal. The most important Christmas musical tradition in Portugal consists of groups of people going around the cities, singing Christmas songs. The tradition dictates that they perform this ritual from January 1st until Epiphany. The musicians gather all evening to sing outside the doors of the whole town, in exchange for sweets, dried fruit, and money, and then go to eat at the band leader’s house.
The songs are simple and often already known so that everyone can follow the singing without difficulty.
Everyone, in fact, must be able to participate, in a spirit of conviviality and unity.
One of the oldest Christmas musical traditions, which aligns with the jovial, cheerful, and welcoming Portuguese spirit, as demonstrated by another great Portuguese musical tradition: Fado, with its typical fado houses.

Zambombas Flamencas. The Christmas musical tradition in Andalusia

Flamenco is one of the most important events in Spanish culture in Andalusia, and this musical style also has its Christmas musical tradition: the flamenco zambomba.
During the Christmas festivities, Flamenco changes a bit. It sheds its energetic and passionate attire.
It changes sounds, intentions, places (it is not performed in the famous Tablao), and even instruments.
It is precisely from one of these instruments, the Zambomba, that this Christmas musical tradition of Andalusia is born.
The Zambomba is nothing more than a drum with a hole in the center through which a stick passes, covered with animal skin and connected to a terracotta pot. A friction drum similar to the Neapolitan putipù, which produces a very distinctive sound.
The spectacle of the Zambombas Flamencas is different from the original Flamenco. It can be seen, unlike the Andalusian musical tradition, in squares and courtyards, but also in bodegas and tabancos.

SEA and YOUpromotes Christmas musical traditions

It could only be the three places that host the SEA and YOU festival.
An important festival, born thanks to Napulitanata, Ideal Fado, and CajaGranada Fundacion, which, one by one, will host musicians from the other two associations in their cities and will be hosted in turn when the time comes.

A festival that wants to make traditional Spanish, Neapolitan, and Portuguese music known throughout Europe. Bringing together and cooperating musicians, artists, singers, and enthusiasts in full respect of the founding ideas of the European community.
Born precisely thanks to a European project, SEA and YOU aims to enhance Fado, Flamenco, and classic Neapolitan song, in all its forms and in all its contexts.
A traditional music festival that has already hosted its first date in Granada (find out what happened) and can’t wait to continue its journey, always in respect of the musical traditions of the musicians who host and are hosted.

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By Davide Lancia