The fair of Sant Orso

The living heritage of Aosta Valley

The first time I have heard about the Sant’Orso fair was at the beginning of the year, from our landlady. My rudimentary Italian only allowed me to understand that it was one of the most important celebrations in the Valley of Aosta. The fair takes place every year on the 30th and 31st of January and brings together over one thousand wood artists from all around the Valley. It is widely appreciated by everybody, from the smallest ones to grown-ups, inhabitants or tourists. Although our landlady witnessed quite a few fairs in her life (not going to unveil her age, which I actually don’t know, just lets say she is a beautiful grandmother), her enthusiasm was something contagious and truly lighted my curiosity!

The origins of Sant’Orso Fair go back deep into the Middle Ages. The ancient legends tell stories of Orso di Aosta, a humble Irish priest, who lived in Aosta sometime between the Vth and the VIIIth century, serving in the San Pietro church (today’s Collegiata di San Pietro e Sant’Orso). Sant’Orso became known not solely for his wood carving skills, but mostly due to his genuine generosity. Sant’Orso became known for giving away to the poor, vast quantities of sabots, the local wooden shoes.

The fair expanded greatly over the years, offering nowadays a wide variety of products, obtained through all types of traditional activities like wood-carving and sculpting, processing of soapstone, wrought iron leather, wool cloth woven, lace, wicker, etc. Live performances of local folklore music, vivid traditional costumes, typical mouthwatering foods and beverages, are even further contributing to joyful display of diversity during these special days.

The night between the 30th and 31st, known as Veillà, is the time for traditional singing and dancing! If snow or freezing temperatures happen to overtake the gaudy illuminated streets of the old town center, there is plenty of delicious vin brulé  (mulled wine) to warm you up and restore your energy levels! Speaking about drinks and food, if you want to spoil all your senses, you shouldn’t miss the pavilion in Piazza Plouves, a display of colors, appetizing smells and a large variety of delicious samples waiting to be tasted by you, all in an ambiance of traditional, cheerful music.

Going back to the craft products, I guarantee you will be blown away! The variety of handcrafted artifacts is overwhelming. Moreover, the care, the attention to details and the originality characteristic to each and every single product, is something I’ve never seen before! If you want to buy something, even a tiny souvenir (I am thinking here not just about the ladies, but also for you, gentlemen), get ready, because it is going to be taught choice! The palette offered is compelling. Uncountable, gorgeous, and unique items, are decorating the stalls, from the good-ol’ sabots to sculptures and handmade massive wood furniture. A wide assortment of house adornments, kitchen accessories, articles for animals’ use and garden, will not miss from the very long list of  hand-made objects offered during the fair.

I could only praise and respect these sheer talented and dedicated artists who with majesty and simplicity are giving the wood an eternal life. Their knowledge and passion is passed on from one generation to the another, taking the wood carving to a different level, transforming a profession into a life style. And so, for just too-short two days per year, at the end of January, the streets of our city are taken over by their marvelous deeds.

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