The straw man
Clear order and structure
It is the first Saturday in February. Between «Punt» and «Plaz» in Scuol there is a hustle and bustle. A hustle and bustle of children of all ages and adults, of teachers, guests and parents, enlivens the lower village. Dust dances in the diffuse winter light and tickles the nose. We hear whips cracking, smell straw and punch and know: Today Scuol is celebrating «Hom Strom».
If you look closely, you will soon recognise a clear sequence of events and the different tasks of each age group: The youngest pupils carry straw, place it in the middle of the crowd and then fetch the next load from the community hay barn. In the village square, the older children spin the straw into two long strands of increasingly thicker straw. The strongest then wind them tightly around the 9-metre-long wooden pole – the straw man grows visibly.
Ritual from the pagan times
In the meantime, the sun is already further above Piz Pisoc and warms the paved square. All this effort is dedicated to it. The custom of the «Hom Strom» goes far back into pagan times. From the course of the sun, the date at the beginning of February and the fact that this custom only exists here, it is assumed that the Hom Strom was originally a kind of offering to the gods and the sun – for a long and productive summer.
Childhood memories are awakened
The raw material for Hom Strom comes from last summer: rye straw. As a tall-growing type of grain, it is particularly suitable for the task. Together with the teachers, the upper school students mowed it themselves and stored it for use in February. Today, they control the fragile processes with clear commands and help the «Hom Strom» to its full glory for over three hours. On the sidelines there are hot drinks, cakes and anecdotes. Many a Scuoler remembers well and fondly his own school days when he himself carried out the honourable tasks.
Playing with fire and light
In the meantime, the sun has dipped behind the mountains in the southwest. Before it gets dark, those responsible bring the 500-kilogram Hom Strom over the bridge to Gurlaina and set it up together with representatives of the local council. Afterwards, the students guard the straw man from malefactors while more and more spectators gather around the action. The «guards» wave petrol-soaked rags, which they have pressed into tight balls and tied to chains, through the air. Placed around the straw man, they draw circles in the dark night with the fireballs.
15 minutes of amazement
20.00 hrs: Finally the time has come. The Hom Strom is ignited with the tolling of the church bell: the fireballs fly to the foot of the straw man, which is ablaze within a very short time. Like flags, the flames of the straw man wave in all directions of the sky – according to tradition, a good sign. Hundreds of spectators marvel at his fire while the locals sing the Hom Strom song to musical accompaniment.
About a quarter of an hour later, the last tufts of straw have gone out and the bare wooden mast stands alone in the dark. The Hom Strom is gone. But its light lives on in the sparkling eyes of the enthusiastic visitors.