Folk Customs/ July and August

In the middle of July the "Gassatengehen" of the Turkish pipers, a nightlight procession accompanied by music, takes place at Waidhofen an der Ybbs (Lower Austria). The men forming the procession (in former times all of them were scythe- smiths) wear the red fez, the Turkish or Muslim headgear, and play the "Turkish" march, which in fact derives from the "Grenadiers' march of the pipers" played in the Austrian army during the reign of Maria Theresa (1740 - 1780).

It has to be noted, however, that Austrian military music itself shows some traits of Turkish influence. Between 1529 (first Turkish siege of Vienna) and 1532 Turkish soldiers ("Akindji") advancing westward came as far as Waidhofen an der Ybbs (more than 100 kilometres west of Vienna) where they were stopped by the local scythe-smiths. The custom conceded as a privilege to the inhabitants of the town reminds them of the bravery of their ancestors. On the Sundays around St. Christopher’s Day (24th of July), a benediction of cars is performed at St. Christophen (Lower Austria).

St. James' (25th of July) is the next important red-letter day. On the Hundstein, a mountain near Zell am See (Salzburg), Austria’s most important competition in traditional wrestling ("Ranggeln"), the contest for the "Hagmoar", is held. This kind of wrestling has a long tradition, some of the types of punches and throws can be traced back to the middle ages. The umpire is called "Schermtax" ("Schirmtanne" i. e. umbrella pine). The winner in former times received a feather for his hat, called "Schneidfeder" (from "Schneid" i. e. courage).

On the same day the dance of the St. James' marksmen ("Jakobischutzen") takes place at St. Jakob am Thurn (Salzburg). It is attested there from 1738.


Boatmen's Customs On The Salzach River

Every three years, on the last Sunday in July there is a "historic pirates battle" on the river Salzach at Oberndorf (Salzburg). The pirates’ camp is situated below the State Bridge where the "wedding" of the pirates’ captain is to take place. The brigands attack and rob a salt-boat, then they fire on the town of Laufen (on the opposite, Bavarian side of the river). Finally the defeated pirates try to escape in their ship. They are arrested (hence the name "Banditenfangen" = catching the brigands) and condemned to death, the sentence eventually being modified to "death by drowning in beer" - now the popular feast can begin.

The custom is not attested before the 19th century and may owe its existence to the predilection for historical representations typical of the period of Romanticism. In this special case, one more factor could have been crucial. The boatmen on the river Salzach, confronted with the economic decline of their profession, tried to secure their economic existence as well as their professional identity.

Also on the river Salzach near Oberndorf the "Schifferstechen" (a fight between boatmen using spears) takes place on Sundays in July and August at irregular intervals (not every year!), organized by the boatmen-guard. The competition is held in the middle of the river, the best three fighters being awarded a cup. It is followed by the "Hansl-und-Gretl-Spiel", the "Wurstspringen" (jump for the sausage) and a river-feast.

The custom of "Schifferstechen" is first mentioned in 1595. The play however, dates probably from the 18th century and belongs to the same playing-tradition of the boatmen as the Pirates’ battle and the "Sternsingen" at the beginning of the year, all three manifestations partly owing their evolution to the precarious economic situation of the boatmen in the 18th and particularly the 19th centuries.

Toward the end of July in the city of Salzburg, on the eve of the opening of the Salzburg Festival, more than one hundred dancers, clad in regional costume and equipped with torches, perform a "Fackeltanz" (torch dance) on the Residenzplatz. Whilst this particular custom was inaugurated only in 1949, torch-dances of this kind are a traditional way of celebrating ceremonial receptions.



August is, like September, a month of markets, fairs, kermisses and all kinds of popular feasts.

In Graz, Fröhlichgasse, the Portiuncula-Market, the second rag-fair of the year, takes place on the first Monday and Tuesday in August. Portiuncula was not originally a female Christian name, but the designation of a place near Assisi (Italy), where St. Francis was converted and later had a church built. In the Roman Catholic church, the Portiuncula-indulgence is granted on the second of August.

Around the first of August the town of Villach (Carinthia) has its annual fair, embedded in a whole week of folkloristtc presentations ("Villacher Brauchtumswoche"). On or close to the 12th of August, St. Clara’s fair ("Klara-Markt") has taken place on the Stubalpe (Styria) since 1865. It was in the beginning merely a cattle-market, but nowadays also comprises popular amusements such as the very funny auction of "Weiberschürzen" (women’s aprons).

Sunday near the 24th of August is the date of St. Bartholomew’s feast or Bartholomew-kermis ("Barthlmä-Kirtag") celebrated in Ranten (Styria) with music, marksmen-guards and market-stands.

At the end of August, or beginning of September, the wine-growers of the former village of Neustift (now part of the 19th district of Vienna) organize the "Neustifter Kirtag mit Winzerumzug" (kermis and wine-growers’ procession, carrying a big crown adorned with gilt nuts), a combination of kermis and thanksgiving which reminds one that Vienna is one of Austria’s foremost wine-growing regions. Vienna wine-taverns ("Heurige") are one of those clichés known all over the world.

Samson processions are held in Styria also in August: at Krakaudorf on the first Sunday in August. and in Murau on the 15th.


Herbal Bunches To Avert Misfortune

The 15th of August, the "Grosse Frauentag" (Great Day of Our Lady i. e. Assumption of the Virgin), marks the culminating point of the month for popular customs, On the eve of the feast, a ship procession, inaugurated on the occasion of the Marian Year 1954, sails on the Wörther See (Carinthia).

In the Western parts of Austria, the "Kräuterweihe" (benediction of herbs), executed on the Great Day of Our Lady, has assumed a magnificent appearance, whereas in other parts of the country it is performed in a much more modest way In some communes of Vorarlberg (Hard, Meflau, Lochau, Höchst, Bizau), the "Kräuter-" or "Fraubuschen" (herb bunch, Lady’s bunch) contains not only herbs and flowers, but also garden fruits and vegetables, On the other hand, in Salzburg (for example Weissbach bei Lofer) only herbs are used, in a special ornamental arrangement, containing up to 72 species! The blessed herb bunches are used, like other blessed twigs, for averting disease and thunderstorms and for protecting homes and livestock.

This high feast of the Virgin is also an occasion for processions and pilgrimages. Among the latter we mention particularly the one at "Maria im Stein" (Mary in the stone) on Pass Stein (Styria), a local cult typical of the habit of venerating Saints on exposed sites. The processions arrive at about 10.30 a.m., then a worship is held.

Since 1925, the pipers ("Seitelpfeifer" i. e. transverse Purists) have been meeting every 15th of August in the Upper Austrian part of the region known as "Salzkammergut" (the place varies and is announced every year). The meeting is preceded by musical training sessions on the Wurzer-Alm or in the Stifter youth hostel (both in Upper Austria) where "schwegeln", i. e. the art of playing the "Seitelpfeife" (traditional transverse flute) is taught to beginners as well as to advanced players.


The Prettiest Tuft Of "Chamois Hair" Contest

Sunday following the 15th of August is the date of "Gamsbart-Olympiade", a contest between the owners of tufts of chamois hair, objects of high prestige among hunters, and an important feature of Austrian and Bavarian regional costume, which is influenced by hunters' clothing.

Towards the end of August, at the weekend near the 24th of August (St. Bartholomew’s), there is a pilgrimage that crosses not only (like the Tauern pilgrimage) provincial, but even national borders. It starts at Maria Aim (Salzburg), crosses the mountains called "Steinernes Meer", and eventually arrives at St. Bartholomä am Königssee (Bavaria, Germany). At the crossing of the border a special musical ritual has developed. The return from Germany takes place in buses.

Photo: Klaus Wurm,