Ramsau Culture

Schützenkultur (Marksmen)

„Auf, gebt, Feuer“

One week before Christmas, in the valley, muffled shots from hand cannons and loud ringing of church bells can be heard – in the ‘quiet’ time, things can get a bit louder in Ramsau. Until December 24th, every day at 3 p.m., there is a quarter of an hour of ringing the church bells, while the ‘Weihnachtsschützen’ (Christmas marksmen) salute the impending arrival of the ‘Christkindl’ (Christ Child). The marksmen enhance the bell ringing with their saluting guns, announcing the birth of Christ. However, the actual ‘Weihnachtsschießen’ (Marksmen’s main Christmas event) begins when the marksmen gather at their designated spots within earshot of the church for the Christmas Mass, heralding the festive high mass. Throughout the village, individual shots, rapid-fire, and salvoes can be heard until suddenly, after the half-hour spectacle, silence reigns. On New Year's Eve, the marksmen gather again at their spot in the heart of the Bergsteigerdorf and from 11:45 p.m. to 12:15 a.m., the old year is farewelled and the new year is welcomed with powerful shots.

 

The history of saluting cannons can be traced back to a pagan custom where the noise was originally meant to scare away spirits of darkness and awaken spring as the cold season was particularly eerie and gloomy in ancient times. Over the centuries, attempts were made to prevent this tradition with bans and penalties. However, the custom remained strong until this day and was Christianized in the 19th century, becoming an integral part of Christmas liturgy. In 1925, the Association of Christmas Marksmen of the Berchtesgadener Land was founded, bringing together local shooting clubs from individual communities. The aim was to act collectively against bans, obtain gunpowder together, and prevent unregulated shooting. Emphasis was placed on shooting during holy seasons and wearing the Berchtesgaden traditional costume.

 

However, the Weihnachtsschützen, despite what the name may suggest, do not only perform at Christmas. Throughout the year they participate in church festivals, public holiday events, and feast days. The United Christmas Marksmen of the Berchtesgadener Land count around 3,000 members and have been part of Bavaria's intangible cultural heritage since 2018.

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