Graubünden Feature

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The Bells of Chalandamarz

Old Man Winter is an especially tough customer in Graubünden, but the locals, going back to Roman days, have a one-day festival to spook him out of his snowshoes and send him packing. On March 1, children gather in the village squares of the Engadine and many other towns and villages in other valleys to celebrate Chalandamarz. The name derives from the Latin calendae martius, literally the March calendar. Dressed in traditional costumes, the children, girls with a riot of silk and paper flowers in their hair, march through the villages ringing bells of all sizes (known as talocs) and singing songs. In the old days they would stop at houses to collect food or other gifts that would be brought home to their families. Now cash is the preferred gift, and it's used to fund the evening Chalandamarz dances.

The Chalandamarz procession in Guarda is special for two reasons. First, it takes place on the last day of February and only boys participate. Secondly, the town is the setting for the story Schellenursli (A Bell for Ursli), written by Selina Chönz with wonderful illustrations by Alois Carigiet. It tells of a young and poor goatherd named Ursli who, after many trials and tribulations, acquires the largest bell in town and is allowed to lead the procession. Within Switzerland, Schellenursli is as well-known as Heidi. Graubünden has several Schellenursli trails. The one in St. Moritz leads up to the "Heidihütte," where the 1970s TV series was filmed.

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