Austrian Traditions, May 2014

Climbing the May Pole

In the UK, May Day is a time for celebration. As parents get together to chat, eat various goodies and maybe share a drink or two, their children dress up in colourful outfits, play games and dance around the May Pole.

In Austria’s Lungau region, the men cut down a large tree, fashion the tallest pole they can manage, erect it in the town square, then race each other to the top. Clearly they prefer climbing the May Pole to dancing around it…

This isn’t actually called May Day in Austria, but the “beer fete”. The pole, which represents fertility for the village, is approximately 20m long and has been debarked, to make it smooth. At the top is a decorated tree, up to which the town’s young, muscle-bound men must climb. To aid their ascent they cover their hands and feet with a sticky substance made from fir tree sap (instant waxing for the more hirsute competitors!). When they reach the top they need to grab one of the pretty ribbons hanging from the wreath, before descending victorious to an adoring crowd of onlookers.

Each year a new tree is cut down for the following year’s festival. This is done in August and celebrated with yet another official beer tent festival. These Austrians don’t need much of an excuse to party!

As you can see, they don’t mind a few scratches either!

[Apologies if the photo at the top looks a bit dodgy!! ;)]