Mounted Christmas carolers - an old custom in the Balkans - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 14 Old 01-11-2020, 12:58 AM Thread Starter
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Mounted Christmas carolers - an old custom in the Balkans

Well, itís hair raising but I thought people here might find it interesting.

The local custom in the villages is for men to ride around the village and sing Christmas ďcarolsĒ on Christmas morning. As you can see, itís pandemonium. Horses (mainly Lipizzaners) spend more time going sideways than forward. They start off as a small group and pick up their friends along the way.


The idea is to make as much noise as possible and visit each house to scare away the bad spirits. In return, the hosts offer the carolers food and drinks (mainly spirits) and gift them towels. The towels used to be hand made and embroidered, these days they are usually store bought. The towels are hung on the horse tack so by the end of it they are practically covered in them. You can see a small boy on a mini which can barely move for the towels.

Even if a horse is well behaved, itís a matter of pride to ride a hot horse so you see some of them agitating the calmer horses.

Apparently, the custom comes from young men coming home for Christmas from the Hapsburg cavalry. I believe it was a perk of the job to take the fancy horse home with you, but you couldnít take the saddle because it was too expensive. You still see some of them riding bareback or on woolen military blankets, as per the old ways.

The men riding donít spend a lot of time in the saddle during the rest of the year. These horses are usually driven for fancy occasions, like weddings and village fairs. These horses arenít typically work horses because Lipizzaners are generally too hot for proper work in the fields. So basically, these men are also showing off their wealth because they can afford a ďparadeĒ horse (usually a pair) which doesnít earn its keep.

An acquaintance of mine has a riding school in one of the villages which is mainly attended by girls. She will drive a large carriage behind the main group, also using Lipizzaners, and a bunch of girls with her. As the carolers get too drunk to ride, one of the girls takes over and the guy is thrown on a pile in the carriage. By the end of it, itís mostly girls riding, men entangled in a heap on the cart.

Most people on the forum will have their mind boggled at the total lack of regard for safety. Not a single hat to be seen and at one point there is a very small child with one of the men (bareback) in the fray. General population, including children, is milling about in between the horses. Carolers are all quite drunk. However, Iíve never heard of anybody getting hurt so I guess that they know what they are doing.

If anyone knows of similar customs, please share.
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post #2 of 14 Old 01-11-2020, 02:04 AM
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what language is it they sing in?
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post #3 of 14 Old 01-11-2020, 05:15 AM Thread Starter
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what language is it they sing in?
That is Serbian, but the custom also exists in Croatia and Bosnia. Those languages are extremely similar. (I donít want to say the same because thatís how you start wars in the Balkans).
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post #4 of 14 Old 01-11-2020, 11:23 AM
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Cool!

Not shocked at the chaos. Most places aren't as safety conscious as a lesson barn.

The horses did seem fractious. I imagined fellows at a pub, one guy says, "Hey, you think we can catch those horses like we did last year? Let's get them and go singing again."

Here, you often find someone with a horse drawn wagon going through town caroling. Additional people hoping on as they go. Some folks riding horses along.

Or, having a caroling party at a church or small school, where neighbors are miles apart, and nearby people riding to it.

Last edited by boots; 01-11-2020 at 11:34 AM.
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post #5 of 14 Old 01-11-2020, 11:58 AM
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Interesting custom; what do the towels signify?

The military reference explains all the wool blankets, thanks for that. Interesting that a horse was cheaper than a saddle...

The main thing I noticed is even with so many horses in such close contact, most of which were very excited, not one horse was kicking at other horses.

Lots of piaffe, half pass at trot one even a duet, half pass at canter, and some levade

I was enjoying it until I saw the horse with a lot of blood on his lips at least the rider could have wiped it off with one of his towels, probably too drunk
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post #6 of 14 Old 01-11-2020, 02:27 PM
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That is Serbian, but the custom also exists in Croatia and Bosnia. Those languages are extremely similar. (I donít want to say the same because thatís how you start wars in the Balkans).



Way back in 1987, in the summer, my husband and I spent about 10 days driving through Yugoslavia, as the region was at that time. We stayed often at state sponsored hostels. They were often dreary places, well, the people seemed dreary. They had no interest in whether we stayed or did not, only if we had dollars or franks to hand over.



When we headed out we visited the tourist bureau for information. Because I enjoy languages and can pick up a bit quite easily (or I could back then), I asked, "How do you say Good Morning? How do you say, Thank you, How do you say Excuse me . . . . etc." . . . The young ladies working there would look at each other, and discuss something in their language, and then tell me something to say. They were trying to decide what was best to teach me; the local language, or the official language, which I think was Serbian.

We traveled through Montenegro, Croatia, a bit of Bosnia and then to Lublijana (which state is that?) . the countryside was incredibly beautiful, but the people were obviously not happy, and struggling economically.,
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post #7 of 14 Old 01-11-2020, 03:01 PM
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I own property and my cousin lives in Croatia. I should ask her about this tradition! Actually I should go over there Christmas time and show them how to ride properly, lol.
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post #8 of 14 Old 01-11-2020, 03:48 PM
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Originally Posted by tinyliny View Post
Way back in 1987, in the summer, my husband and I spent about 10 days driving through Yugoslavia, as the region was at that time. We stayed often at state sponsored hostels. They were often dreary places, well, the people seemed dreary. They had no interest in whether we stayed or did not, only if we had dollars or franks to hand over.



When we headed out we visited the tourist bureau for information. Because I enjoy languages and can pick up a bit quite easily (or I could back then), I asked, "How do you say Good Morning? How do you say, Thank you, How do you say Excuse me . . . . etc." . . . The young ladies working there would look at each other, and discuss something in their language, and then tell me something to say. They were trying to decide what was best to teach me; the local language, or the official language, which I think was Serbian.

We traveled through Montenegro, Croatia, a bit of Bosnia and then to Lublijana (which state is that?) . the countryside was incredibly beautiful, but the people were obviously not happy, and struggling economically.,

Lublijana is in slovenia, it's the capital.
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post #9 of 14 Old 01-11-2020, 05:58 PM Thread Starter
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Interesting custom; what do the towels signify
I think it goes way back to a brideís ďgiftĒ. Girls would spend a lot of time weaving and embroidering towels and linen which they would take to their husbandís home when they got married. I think in the beginning of the caroling custom, only unmarried men would go caroling. A girl would give a towel to the boy she likes the most or she would give him her prettiest towel.

I am not sure why towels are so prominent in the local folklore - nowadays they are still gifted to the groomís family by the bride when they arrive to pick her up at her childhood home. Bizarrely, the towels are then tied to the cars in which the whole procession drives to the church, similar to the way they decorated the horses.

I get a feeling it has something to do with ancient Slavic religion which was based on nature and itís forces. One of those forces is water and water had some sort of mystery and sensuality tied to it. Water, towels - something, something... not too sure, but old folk songs often depict a girl going to fetch water and getting herself into trouble - presumably of the romantic sort.

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I was enjoying it until I saw the horse with a lot of blood on his lips at least the rider could have wiped it off with one of his towels, probably too drunk
Strangely, these horses are usually driven using sharper bits with more leverage but it seems that they almost exclusively use snaffle bits for riding. Generally, they treat horses to the best of their ability (in their own way). The honor of the whole family and a man in particular is questionable if his horses are in poor condition (which leads to over feeding but thatís a whole different topic).
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post #10 of 14 Old 01-11-2020, 06:10 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tinyliny View Post
Way back in 1987, in the summer, my husband and I spent about 10 days driving through Yugoslavia, as the region was at that time. We stayed often at state sponsored hostels. They were often dreary places, well, the people seemed dreary. They had no interest in whether we stayed or did not, only if we had dollars or franks to hand over.



When we headed out we visited the tourist bureau for information. Because I enjoy languages and can pick up a bit quite easily (or I could back then), I asked, "How do you say Good Morning? How do you say, Thank you, How do you say Excuse me . . . . etc." . . . The young ladies working there would look at each other, and discuss something in their language, and then tell me something to say. They were trying to decide what was best to teach me; the local language, or the official language, which I think was Serbian.

We traveled through Montenegro, Croatia, a bit of Bosnia and then to Lublijana (which state is that?) . the countryside was incredibly beautiful, but the people were obviously not happy, and struggling economically.,
Yup, that was the worst of times (well, apart from the war in 90s :/ ). The whole country was gearing up for war basically. The economy tanked after Tito (our local, very much adored dictator) died in 1981. Old bad blood between different nationalities was being stirred up, which Tito previously kept in check... 50s, 60s and 70s were much more optimistic and happy and most people alive during that time have some very conflicting feelings about Tito and his regime. Most of them were very happy and gainfully employed during Titoís reign. I personally am not too sure what to think of it, since we are making a right mess of this democracy business.
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