The cultural resonance of Italy’s Alpini

Jan 19, 2017 352

EVERY winter, town squares all over Europe are filled by the hum of Christmas choirs. Towns in northern Italy follow this tradition too, but with a twist. Singers abandon Santa costumes in favour of the distinctive feathered hats of the Alpini, tough soldiers mostly recruited from remote Alpine villages. The Alpini repertoire is different too. Christmas songs are swapped for haunting ballads about the cruelty of war. These canti Alpini—and the soldiers who sing them—have become part of the region's cultural heritage.

At first glance, this is surprising. After all, to start with, the Alpini were a decidedly military outfit, established in 1872 to protect the new Italian state from its enemies to the north. Their baptism of fire came during the first world war, fighting the Austro-Hungarians high in the Dolomites. Conditions were terrible: avalanches and frostbite were a constant threat. Despite this, the Alpini notched up some impressive wins.

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