Huge massive exhausting beautiful long weekend in Tyrol. One of my favourite things about being here is the amount of cultural traditions and customs that you just don’t get in Australia. I’m pretty defensive when people say that there is no culture in Australia, and find it pretty reductive to dismiss our traditions (I could dedicate a whole other post to this argument) but these Austrians…man they do tradition right.
Austrian Dirndl’s and Lederhosen – not just for Oktoberfest apparently!!**
A lot of this has to do with their strong Catholic heritage. The mighty Hapsburg Empire that ruled for 700 – odd years were staunch Catholics, meaning most celebration days here are rooted in the Religious celebration days. We headed to Tyrol last Wednesday to Celebrate ‘Allerheiligen’ or All Saints Day. From my understanding and some light Wikipedia-ing its a commemoration to All Saints – both known and unknown – and thought to be the day when the “curtain between the living and the dead, those in purgatory, heaven and earth is thinner than usual.” Of course its all tied into the historical pagan feasts connected with Halloween as well. History lesson aside, this was, as far as I could tell, a day when the extended family got together to visit the grave of a beloved family member. I was at once culturally intrigued and personally terrified to be apart of something so significant to S and his family. This was a huge public statement to be invited to join in a very private ceremony of which I knew nothing.
Luckily for me it started with the familiar – delicious breakfast at the nearby cousins place. Unluckily, both S and his cousin R had made it their personal mission the night before to cure me of my Sober October behaviour. I was a touch fragile in the early morning sunlight and chattiness, but it probably helped take the nervous edge off the proceedings. Besides I needn’t have worried, by the end of a beautifully presented, home-made feast of fresh bread (fresh baked! at home! still warm! miraculous!), jams, spreads, muesli with fresh picked blueberries, cooked quail’s eggs and Tyrolian bacon I was equipped to deal with whatever was coming. The first drinks of the day were poured after breakfast – Prosecco all round. Not exactly a strict, staunch Catholic occassion then!
About 2pm we headed to the local graveyard, S gripping my hand and leading me in amongst his many family members. The beautiful thing was, it didn’t feel like a sad occasion to be a part of. I was worried it would be morbid, or i’d be too upset on his behalf to get through whatever the ceremony was without crying. But as we were walking there, different family members turned up (they are Catholic communities, his father’s side alone had 6 siblings!!) and were hugging and jumping on each other in joy. The ceremony itself was simply standing by the graveside, with hushed conversations and – at least amongst his family – little jokes and messing around with the kids until the official part of the day began. It looked like other grave sites were much more sombre, but the way his family dealt with the gravity of remembrance was with lightness, humour and love. At 2:30 the church bells tolled, the church brass band played authenitic Austrian songs and hymns, followed by the ceremonial blessing of the graves by the Priest and some public prayers at the churchyard. It was all over relatively fast, but standing there, thousands of miles away from home, I had to admire a country that kept such rural, traditional and community based ceremonies alive. The fresh, cool winter air and snow-sprinkled mountains surrounding us felt timeless, as did the small rituals I was being invited to join in with. Trite as it sounds – I felt lucky to be witness to something so personal and close to this family’s heart.
From there on we descended into more familiar territory for me, despite the language barriers. A small house filled with noise, people, food and wine. Granny’s special salad, stories of kids and catch ups, a portrait of them all from the ’80’s framed on the wall and hours and hours of chatting, drinking, laughing and a light grilling for me. The warmth with which they welcomed me was overwhelming, and the similarity with my own families way of celebrating reassuring. All in all it proved exactly what we all know – traditions may be different, but families are the same worldwide!
Candles lit on gravestones to commemorate loved ones**
**N.B I’m working on getting my own photographs up onto the blog, but my digital camera is having trouble communicating with my ancient Mac. Stay tuned for more personal images soon!! **