Music & Ritual: Bridging Material & Living Cultures

Publications of the ICTM Study Group on Music Archaeology, Vol. 1

Ritual and Symbolic Aspects of the Midwinter Horn in the Netherlands

Annemies Tamboer

The Dutch midwinterhoorn (midwinter horn) is a long, curved wooden horn. This folk instrument is played from Advent to Epiphany, from four weeks before Christmas to 6th
January. The name is derived from midwinter, a traditional name for Christmas in some regions in the Eastern Netherlands. The oldest written sources mentioning the name ‘midwinterhoorn’ are certain official documents of the year 1815. These indicate that it was used as for signalling during the whole year, but that it was blown notably at Christmas. Its function of signalling gradually was lost almost completely in the early 20th century. When a revival of hornblowing took place, it was as an instrument played only at Christmas. Certain religious and symbolic connotations became attached to it, rituals developed around its use, and a renewed tradition came into being. The oldest tangible source for the existence and use of wooden horns in the Netherlands is a mouthpiece, dated to the 13th century, which has been excavated in fragments. Unfortunately, no written sources have been found that give a clue to the use of this 13th-century horn as a ‘midwinterhorn’in the context of Christmas.

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