On the Cover: Zampognari

No Italian Christmas would be complete without the sound of bagpipes. Everywhere from the piazzas of Rome to remote hillside villages, the Zampognari (pipers) continue the tradition of festive bagpipe playing that dates back to ancient Roman times
Zampognari get their name from the ancient instrument, the zampogna, an aerophone bag equipped with five pipes inserted inside a stump where the bag is bound. The zampogna is similar to and often confused with the bagpipes. While the zampogna is the traditional instrument played by zampognari, it is not unusual to see a zampognari blowing into a bagpipe, especially around the Christmas holiday.
Throughout the Christmas season, zampognari travel through city streets playing traditional Christmas music including the much-loved Italian carol "Tu scendi dalle stelle" on their instruments, dressed in short breeches with crisscrossed leather leggings, sheepskin vests with a woolen cloak and peaked cap. The zampognari wardrobe is similar to that of a shepherd. Customarily, zampognari were shepherds who traveled down from their mountain homes into piazzas and cities during Christmastime to earn a bit of extra income performing for the townspeople.
Legend tells us of the shepherds who visited the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. After gazing upon the baby Jesus, some took out their bagpipes and played. The journey from mountain home to town simulates the original shepherds’ journey to meet the Christ Child. In keeping with the legend, the pipers today will stop at public Nativity scenes for a few minutes of quiet contemplation.
The zampognari are important figures in the folklore of Italian regions such as Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Lazio, Molise, Puglia, and Sicily. People in many parts of the country will be eagerly awaiting the appearance of the zampognari this Christmas. They often appear where there are grottos or at Christmas and open-air markets and you will see them in the streets of Rome. Look out for the zampognari if you are going to be in Italy between now and Christmas!