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Freedom is a broad concept. Ever wondered where it starts and where it ends? What age? What time? Well basically, adulthood could be the fixpoint. Turning eighteen, everything is possible: Proper income, marriage, debts.

Photo: Boris Ludwig
Pet of the E&M family

Since I reached that magical age last year, I have wondered how people all across Europe would celebrate it. But all the traditions I discovered while playing investigative journalist, differed very little from the ones I already knew from Germany. An 18th birthday almost always means big family reunions, parties for friends (and those who think they´re friends). Even astonishingly often, young adults find new cars at the front door which carries the invisible label “sponsored by mummy and daddy”. Really, Europe seems to melt into one.

Nevertheless, the traditions that survive are worth maintaining. While people in Denmark hoist their flags just like every time someone grows older, Russian traditions are rather culinary. Many parents bake huge cakes for their now grown-up children with their best wishes carved into the crust.

However,  don’t think that all of Europe just watches its flags and eats its cakes when its youth turns eighteen. In the Italian Alps, north of Venice, at an altitude of 1000 meters, people from the Versina Valley do celebrate 18th birthdays differently – at least if you are male. When the particular time comes, normality stops where pastures and cottages begin. In the Versina Valley a young adult’s first way leads directly

Photo: Archiv Bersentol Kulturinstitut
Koskritt with traditional hat

into the next choir he comes across. First of all, he is named „Koskritt“. People give him a black hat which is 40 cm high, with bright adornments, and turned up rims. Yet the best part is still to come: The „Koskritt“ walks up and down the mountains with his choir, belting out traditional songs in farmyard after farmyard until his lungs give up. If he puts up a good fight until Christmas, there are even more occasions to set the tone: As soon as the Versina people put up their fir trees, the 18-year-old is supposed to learn some traditional Christmas songs by heart as well. Honor or punishment? could be the right question here. Probably the former. The 18-year-old goes through the procedure voluntarily. Like father, like son.

In the Versina Valley, maximising one´s vocal skills this way is a step into a unique community that lives in the heart of Europe and follows its own rules. Speaking a German-based language called „mochenò“ (which is by the way the least-spoken language in Europe), and yet living peacefully in another country,  the Versina Valley people and their traditions might be the perfect example of how diverse Europe can be.

Still, thinking back to your own 18th birthday, drinking games and silly bets you might think that a Christmas song in your neighbour’s backyard would be an honorable alternative,  mightn’t you?

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