What you need to know about carnival in Austria

Also known as 'Fasching', carnival in Austria is celebrated with events, parades and some very special food. Here's what you need to know about the festivities.

Austrian folk group Schellenschlager member in costume
Costumes and masks are everywhere at Austria's carnival events. AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR

Carnival is a festive period celebrated worldwide, and even if some of the most traditional or famous parties happen in Rio, Cologne or Venice, Austria also has its share of great (and old!) traditions and symbols. 

The carnival period in Austria has no fixed days, as it’s determined by when Easter falls, like in other countries. In Austria, the celebrations typically happen from the Saturday before Shrove Tuesday to Ash Wednesday – this year that’s Saturday, February 26th until Wednesday, March 2nd. 

The dates may vary, but the much-beloved traditions tend to stay the same with many focused on “scaring away” winter and welcoming spring. 

Carnival food

It has to be apricot jam

These jam-filled doughnuts are a symbol of carnival. The typical Viennese Faschingskrapfen will have a sticky apricot jam inside, and this filling should make up at least 15 percent of the entire doughnut, according to strict Krapfen standards. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Faschingskrapfen

Krapfen is also an excellent example of the differences between German and Austrian German. For instance, in an Austrian bakery, it’s best not to call the Krapfen by its German name: Berliner Pfannkuchen.

But there’s a lot more to carnival than food; for many people, carnival just wouldn’t be carnival without the dressing up.

At the peak of the celebrations, usually on Faschingsdienstag (Shrove Tuesday), there are several parties all over the country, with many people donning all kinds of witty and creative costumes and intricate masks informed by local traditions.

But while the celebrations share a common theme, events differ across the country with each Austrian state having its own traditions. 

Traditions around Austria

Styria, for example, is known for its annual carnival race, the Faschingsrennen, where participants wearing traditional costumes run up to the highest spot in town to “scare away the winter” – loud noises are part of the scare tactics, of course. 

Tyrol has some rather eyebrow-raising traditions, featuring figures like “Roller” (named after the costume’s rotating bells) or “Scheller” (who carries big bells). The two different characters symbolise elegance and strength and wear massive crowns while walking around loudly ringing the bells on their belts.

The traditional masked Schleicherlaufen parade is also in Tyrol and is held every five years. The “Schleicher” are the 40 men who parade in huge hats, some of which weigh as much as 8 kilogrammes.

The parade has taken place in the state since 1890 and was given Unesco World Cultural Heritage status in 2010. 

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Some local events, such as the Blochziehen, take place only every four years – the next one is in 2023. Here, masked villagers carry a 30-metre-long pine log through town to symbolise the coming of spring. 

Tyrol has so many quirky events that it would be hard to list them all, but the Wampelerreiten in Axams near Innsbruck is also very popular, with the Wampeler (meaning fat-belled) – young men wearing black hats, masks and padded white shirts – taking part in a battle against the Riders who try to dirty the Wampeler’s white shirts.

According to tradition, the fewer shirts that get soiled in the battle, the better the harvest will be.

Sadly, the 2022 celebration has been cancelled.

Vorarlberg is famous for its Feldkircher Fastnachtsumzug, a procession of people wearing brightly coloured costumes who welcome spring with loud singing and traditional songs. They scare away winter using torches creating beautiful visuals. 

Upper Austria is known for the Ebensee Carnival Parade, which takes place on the Monday before Shrove Tuesday. The procession is attended by people wearing older women’s clothes, a rag hat, and a creepy-looking wooden mask. It’s all in good fun, though, and the celebrations usually last until late at night – the party and festival became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2011.

Carinthia is home to the Villacher Fasching with parties that are even broadcast by Austrian TV channel ORF. You will often hear the traditional carnival exclamation “Lei Lei!,” based on traditions from Middle Ages and similar to the famous “Alaaf!” in Cologne. 

Couples line up at the annual Opera Ball in Vienna, Austria on February 20th, 2020. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Vienna’s carnival typically coincides with the capital’s ball season. The city may not be home to the old carnival traditions of Austria’s western villages, but there is still much beauty and entertainment to be seen and had here.

The most famous ball is the Vienna Opera Ball, which has been held in the Vienna State Opera House for over 60 years. Every Viennese will tell you that this is the “world’s most beautiful ballroom,” with debutant couples dancing and more than 5,000 guests attending. 

The Krapfen is also most famous in Vienna and it is consumed in copious quantities here. It’s a tradition that’s taken seriously, too, and the pastries are expected to have at least six fresh egg yolks in every kilogramme of flour, the only way for it to be fluffy on the inside but crispy on the surface – just as it should be.


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Muttertag: How does Austria celebrate Mother’s Day?

Like many other countries, Austrian Mother's Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of May - but the country adds its spin to the holiday.

Muttertag: How does Austria celebrate Mother's Day?

Mother’s Day is a celebration honouring mothers and maternal bonds, very much connected to women’s movements all over the world. In many countries, including Austria, the date is celebrated on the second Sunday of May, when mothers can expect to receive presents and breakfast in bed.

Not all countries celebrate the date on the same day, though. In Norway, for example, Mother’s Day falls on the second Sunday of February, while Ireland and the United Kingdom celebrate Mothering Sunday on the fourth Sunday in Lent – which was March 27th this year.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about parental leave in Austria

Other countries, including Spain and Portugal, celebrate it on the first Sunday of May. Still, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland actually introduced the holiday on the same day as the first celebration in the United States – where the “modern version” of the date began in 1907.

When did Austria start celebrating Mother’s Day?

Muttertag was first introduced in Austria in 1924 after an initiative by women’s rights activist Marianne Hainisch.

Born near Vienna in 1839, she was a well-educated woman who defended women’s rights to proper education. Hainisch famously wrote the article On the Education of Women, calling for the City of Vienna to start school classes for girls. She created classrooms for girls with private funds, which was recognised by the city of Vienna in 1981.

Her efforts continued, and she campaigned for women to be allowed to attend higher education and became a leader in the suffrage movement in Austria.

Finally, she became one of the Austrian Women’s Party founders in 1912. In 1920, her son, Michael Hainisch, became the first President of Austria after the end of the first World War and the fall of the monarchy.

How do Austrians celebrate it?

The celebrations may seem familiar to many people around the world. Small children will prepare handmade presents for their moms in kindergartens or learn sweet songs to sing to them on Sunday.

Families will prepare breakfast in bed for the mother and give her chocolate and flowers.

READ ALSO: 26C: Summery weather for Austria after rainy weekend

However, flowers are almost a mandatory present on many holidays, including Mother’s Day in Austria. There is a reason why flower shops were considered “essential shops” during lockdowns and allowed to stay open.

While in some countries celebrations might take place with just a small present or chocolate, Austrians will very likely bring flowers to their mothers (as they do on Valentine’s Day, Women’s Day, and many other celebrations and birthdays).

Additionally, Austria’s love of nature and culture also shines on this date. It’s common for people to spend the Sunday days – especially since the celebration falls in mid-spring – out and about.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

Families will take the day to go with the mothers hiking around towns or for a walk in a park. The alpine country is also famous for its cultural offers. Mother’s Day is an excellent opportunity to take moms out for the theatre or other cultural events.

Every family has its own tradition, though, as the idea is to spend the date celebrating mothers the way they’d prefer.

The commercial side of it

Like in much of the world, companies have hijacked the date, of course. Starting about one week before Mother’s Day – sometimes as early as a month, companies in Austria will start advertising products, discounts, and offers.

Since it falls on a Sunday, most of the stores and shops will be closed on the date, even though it is not a bank holiday in Austria.

READ ALSO: Why everything in Austria is closed on Sundays – and what to do instead

However, the idea is to introduce offers for presents bought beforehand, usually typical and cliche things.

Restaurants and bars, which do stay open on Sundays, will have special menus and discounts for families.

Useful vocabulary: different ways to wish a happy Mother’s Day in German

Alles Liebe zum Muttertag
Einen fröhlichen Muttertag
Alles Gute zum Muttertag