In some countries, New Year’s isn’t as big of a deal. For example, on our first New Year in Dublin we turned on the radio to be able to hear the countdown at midnight only to miss it because there wasn’t one. In Austria, however, people love and uphold traditions, especially on big days like December 31st. So here are 10 Fun Facts about New Year’s Eve in Austria.
Austrians refer to New Year’s Eve as Silvester. Not related to Sylvester Stallone but rather Saint Silvester who’s name day is on December 31st, as patron saint of pets, barn animals and the new year.
A popular dish to eat on New Year’s Eve is Sauschädel, which is literally a pig’s head. We’re not going to show you a picture because that’s literally what it is, an entire pig’s head.
#8: Chimney Sweeps, more Pigs & Fly Agarics
It’s customary to give your friends or family lucky charms.You’ll find pop-up shops all around town selling little chocolates or figurines often of pigs, chimney sweeps or fly agarics, all of which are considered to be lucky symbols.
#7: Vienna Philharmonics’ New Year’s Concert
As you may have heard, the new year is welcomed with the famous New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonics. It becomes the first New Year’s resolution of many an Austrian to be broken when they don’t manage to get up early enough to watch in on the morning on January 1st. Luckily, they show at least one repeat during the evening of the following week.
#6: The Same Procedure as Every Year
There is a very strict schedule for what is shown on New Year’s Eve on Austrian TV. There’ll always be Dinner for One, a British comedy written for the theatre. Austrians often mistake it to be known around the world because it’s in English. In fact it’s hardly known outside of German-speaking countries at all. It’s a comedy about an old lady and her butler having a dinner party by themselves. Another episode which will be shown every year is the Silvester episode of Mundl, Ein echter Wiener geht nicht unter (a real Viennese does not go under), which is a popular Austrian TV show from the 70ies about a working class family.
#5: More Hiking
While it’s not uncommon to have minus degrees in the middle of winter nights, there are still many outdoor parties all around the country. Most famous is the Silvesterpfad in Vienna’s historic city centre.
#4: Melting Lead
New Year’s Eve is considered to be one of the Raunächte – mystical, magical nights which happen in-between the winter solstice and Epiphany. In connection to that we have customs like making sure no laundry is left on clothes lines. But the last night of the year is also seen as an opportunity for fortune-telling. It’s tradition to do bleigießen. You get a kit with small lead objects and a special spoon at the shops. On New Year’s Eve, you then put one of those lead pieces on that spoon and hold it over a candle. Once it’s melted, you throw it into a bowl of cold water. The shape of the resulting piece of lead then gives you a hint of what’s in store for you in the new year. It’s great fun trying to interpret what it looks like and reading the meanings in the booklet that comes with the kit.
#3: Have a good Slide
Another fun part of New Year’s Eve is the well-wishes. Leading up to the end of the year, we wish people Guten Rutsch, which literally translates to Good Slide. What we mean by that is we wish you a safe transition into the new year. The origin of the phrase is unclear, some people linking it to similar phrases in Yiddish. At midnight, we wish each other, “Prosit Neu Jahr”. This one’s easier to explain. Prosit comes from the Latin verb form for “may it be good”. So, basically it means may it be a good new year.
#2: Ringing in the new year
The first thing you’ll hear in the New Year on radio and TV is the Pummerin in St Stephen’s Cathedral. It consisted originally from melted-down canon balls from a siege on Vienna and is rung only on very special occasions. Fun fact, it’s also the largest bell in Austria, third largest in Europe.
#1: Viennese Waltz
This is one is at number one because if you ask any Austrian about New Year’s traditions, it’s probably the first thing to coming to mind. Living up our reputation of being a country of classical music, the first song you’ll hear, after the Pummerin bell has rung out, is The Blue Danube Walz by Johann Strauss II. People will dance along or attempt to, depending on their level of intoxication. However, we have to admit rarely anyone manages to dance through it fully. At around ten minutes this feat can only be managed by experienced dancers with plenty of determination. But you’ll get away with just swaying along to the music as well.
If you enjoy this atmosphere of cheerful winter nights, clinking champagne bottles and midnight waltzing, check out Julia’s new short story To Imperfect Proposals.