Hello and welcome to another possible semi-regular feature of this here blog-thing where I tell you interesting and mildly infuriating things about my home town. You’re really getting swamped with my posts this week, aren’t ya? Well, it has to be today, because posting something about Halloween is the cool thing to do.
Now this bitching about my loverly little city is aaaallll my personal opinion of course, and as we all know, a person is entitled to their wrong opinion. I mean, with your home town, it’s a bit like with family. You love them and you know they love you, and nothing is ever going to change that because after all you’re family, but sometimes they do something so abjectly stupid you just have to vent. So here we go.
Some days I’m absolutely convinced that the cause for all my troubles lies in the fact that I was born and raised in a small city full of bitchy people who do nothing but complain all day.
Okay, so Vienna is maybe not that small. 1.7 million people. That’s a decent enough size for a central European capital. I mean it’s no London but we can’t all be London. But let’s just say it’s not the most popular or populous city in the world. It’s not going to be the staging ground for the next evil overlord/alien invasion/zombie apocalypse, nor is it going to be blown to bits in the next big Marvel anything. (Seriously, how are they rebuilding NYC so fast every time? And the people living there must be like, “Welp, another superhero fight, time to hit the bunker. Hope they don’t blow up my office again.” Does New York have superhero insurance by now?)
Maybe there’s something in the water. I mean, people have been living around here for a good 100,000 years, were they all bitchy and complainy too?
Maybe it’s just an inferiority complex, because there’s nothing left of the Grand Austrian Empire(TM) that lasted for
millenniums about 600 years, give or take, I mean, it depends on what you count as part of Grand Austrian Empire(TM). Wasn’t always that Grand. Or that Empire-y. And now everyone keeps thinking we’re Australia and we have to sell shirts with helpful prints in the hopes that this year’s batch of befuddled tourists will finally stop asking where the fucking kangaroos are. (Although maybe we should arrange a sort of cultural partnership with Australia just to fuck with American tourists. They send us kangaroos, we send them dirndls and beer and some decent fucking mountains, don’t worry, there’s plenty and to share.) And if it’s not a case of mistaken identity, no one knows we exist. So, yeah. I guess Austrians are big on inferiority.
And in that spirit, let me tell you fun stuff about us wild mountain fellows.
Like, Halloween. We don’t have that. We don’t really do Halloween. Which is ironic considering it likely originated here.
Jep, you read that right. What’s that? The Irish made it popular, you say? Where do you think the Irish come from? The Celts came to Ireland about 300 BC from mainland Europe. Central Europe. Hell, their own mythology puts their origin close to this our general region. Did you know that Irish mythology has stories about a bunch of people called Túatha Dé Danann? Did you know that this means “people of Danu”? Did you know that Danu is apparently the name of a goddess? And that the word is related to “Danube”? You know, that river that flows from the Black Forest riiight through here all the way to the Black Sea?
So there’s a good chance that at least some Irish Celts were starting out as misplaced Austrians. This is a very depressing thought, I’m sure.
It’s also really ironic, I mean, whole Celtic tribes apparently wandered from here all the way to Ireland in 300 BC, then in the 5th-7th century AD they came back for the vengeance to bring us their newly acquired Christianity. And had to deal with a bunch of suspicious Germanic clans before they could establish monasteries here. (With help from the Romans. Mainland Europe during the Migration Period was like a free-for-all of peoples.)
But we don’t do Halloween in Austria. There’s evidence that local Celts had their share of end-of-summer, be-nice-to-the-spirits death festivals around that time of year, complete with laying out food and wearing costumes so they wouldn’t be recognised by the original evil dead. But then the Irish party pooper monks came and suddenly it was called All Saints’ Day ‘n shit and no more booze or costumes. I swear, we never get any fun holidays around here.
I mean, Austria has a lot of great things. Clean water. Health insurance. Good food and alcohol. Drinking age of 16. Those are all great things. But holidays… nope, we have to borrow those, if at all.
I think one of the reasons for the complete lack of Halloween spirit around here is because most of us only know the US movie version of the holiday. It’s a holiday for kids, people say. And we can’t do it like they do in US movies. First of all, most parents around here are very uncomfortable with the thought of their kids running around strangers’ houses. Not kosher. Not to mention in Vienna, most people rent flats. Owning a house in or around Vienna usually means you’re loaded, whether you admit it or not (or you slept with your estate agent, in which case name and business address please, or you’re eating nothing but pasta so you can afford your show off house). If people are not comfortable with their kids running around strange people’s houses, guess what they have to say about kids running around apartment buildings, especially in certain parts of town. Apart from the fact that we all were beaten about the head with the old “Do not talk to strangers, do not accept things from strangers” when we were children. Now you expect us to do just that. Inner turmoil!
Another reason is, well… it’s become a holiday for kids. That usually means no alcohol. Austrians love their booze and will use any and all excuse to get buzzed. Any event, if there’s drink to be had you will find a happy Austrian right in the middle. There is a reason why Oktoberfest has become so strangely popular, even though it’s a German holiday. (Austria-German relations are complicated, like any dysfunctional family.)
Then there’s the weather. Sweater weather in Austria means three sweaters. Under a coat. This year has been an absolute exception. We’ve had a real Californian autumn until mid-October with temperatures reaching up to 24C (and now it’s getting cold. Like, really cold. Yes, right before Halloween. Vienna weather, ladies and gentlemen!). That is very unusual. What is usual is you freezing your toes off bang on time on October 1st and you don’t even want to leave the house by the end of the month. So not only would Halloween in Vienna mean to let children be around strangers, but they’d probably come home with a cold because you can’t fit three sweaters under those costumes, and wouldn’t that be a nuisance.
Lastly, I think the fact that we already have an event that encourages fancy dress and consumption of copious amounts of alcohol (as well as questionable life choices at around 3 am) may stop Halloween from getting its big break around here. We have Fasching (Carnival), which is basically an excuse for partying all February long (okay, until Ash Wednesday, but who the fuck even remembers when that is? Especially after the third round.).
And Carnival has less death about it. Not that we mind death. After all, the morbidity of Vienna and its people is the stuff of legends. Also, Vienna is home to one of the largest cemeteries in Europe, 330.000 graves and counting. Someone even wrote a song about it (not a good one, but hey, a song). Actually, a feast as morbid as Halloween would be perfect for our weird local sentiments. After all, by celebrating the dead you are simultaneously celebrating that you are alive, and it is generally agreed that being alive is better than being dead.
But people here like to at least pretend to have some decency or decorum, and decency and decorum means to don their appropriate frowny faces at any funeral, which usually lasts until the exact moment they set foot in the restaurant chosen for the funeral feast. We like to keep up appearances. So no frolicking about in our best horror garb for us. With Carnival, however, you are basically given free rein to be as merry and drunk and horny as you like, go find someone like-minded and enjoy yourself.
Problem is of course, Fasching is way less fun if you don’t like being drunk and you have to be completely shit-faced to deal with all the horny drunk people, rampant stupidity, and bad music at parties. That’s why I would prefer if Halloween could finally take root here. Halloween has always been my favourite holiday and I never got to go trick-or-treating as a kid. No, I’m not still bitter, why would I… oh, that’s preposterous… now, listen, you… no, you shut up….