One of my favourite things about living abroad is experiencing local traditions.
I am working in Salzburg in Austria, and one thing that has really stood out to me is the traditional Austrian costume: the dirndl (a dress with a blouse underneath) for women, and lederhosen (short leather trousers) for men. Whilst I have been living here (since February) there have been two major festival days when local people have worn their traditional costumes, but Austrians wear these clothes frequently at other times too; whether at a gathering of friends or just to wander around town. It’s lovely to see a tradition that is still so alive today and it makes me wish that we had a special costume like this is England!
The first big celebration where everyone wore his or her lederhosen or dirndl was Carnival, the celebration before Lent. This festival is called Fasching in Austria, and I know that Switzerland and Germany have similar celebrations.
More recently, on May 1st, I went to a village just outside Salzburg to join in with the May Pole celebrations. This tradition is called ‘Maibaum’ (literally ‘May tree’) and started in the 16th century. All the locals were gathered together outside in their dirndl and lederhosen, drinking Austrian beer and eating traditional foods such as sausages. Even very young children were wearing the costume! Whilst we all relaxed and enjoyed ourselves in the sun, listening to a brass band, a group of men set up a very long wooden pole, made from the trunk of a tree which had been colourfully decorated. The whole process took about four hours. They used long sticks to move the enormous tree trunk very slowly into place into a hole in the ground. Occasionally the men would have a break from their hard work, and they would be given large crates of beer to refresh them in the hot sun! When finally it was in the upright position, we all clapped and cheered and the brass band played a celebratory song.
Over the last few days I have seen several other May poles like this in other villages around Salzburg. It’s nice to imagine the same tradition happening all over the country; something that started hundreds of years ago is still alive today, uniting people.