Burning incense and star singers

Alongside the multitude of well-known Christmas customs, there are also other traditions that visitors seldom encounter during their stay. Examples include people burning fragrant herbs in their homes to celebrate specific days and children dressing up as the Three Wise Men and going from door to door, singing carols to entertain local residents.

Burning Incense on the Twelve Days of Christmas

From 24 December to 5 January

This custom originally stems from the superstition that evil powers can enter people's homes in the twelve days leading up to Twelfth Night. During this period, people therefore used to avoid hanging out their laundry just in case evil spirits got tangled up in it. A popular belief was that urinating in front of stall doors would keep cruel goblins at bay or that hanging a bunch of mugwort above the stall doors would provide protection against harm. As far as we know, such urination traditions are now a thing of the past. The ceremonial act of burning incense in homes, however, is still carried out in many parts of the Alps today. Various resins and frankincense are normally mixed with local aromatic herbs and placed in a large pan to burn and release smoke. The family then takes this pan through the house and stalls, saying prayers of thanks for the year gone by and asking for the blessing of a good future for both themselves and their animals.

Star singers

This custom probably stems from convent schools, where pupils dressed up and performed to raise extra funds from the 16th century onwards, if not even earlier. The term "star singers" mainly refers to children who dress up on 6 January as the Three Wise Men, the Kings Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, and go from house to house with an incense burner. They normally mark their visit by writing the three letters C+M+B (Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar) in chalk on the doors of the houses. These letters can also be interpreted as an abbreviation of the Latin blessing "Christus mansionem benedicat", meaning "May Christ bless this house". Superstition has it that marking doors in this way scares off evil spirits and keeps the homes safe.

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