Austrian traditions For Members

Christi Himmelfahrt: Why is Ascension Day a public holiday in Austria?

The Local Austria
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Christi Himmelfahrt: Why is Ascension Day a public holiday in Austria?
People visit the famous St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna on August 11, 2021. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Thursday May 18th marks the Christian feast of Ascension - which means a day off work and a chance to take a 'Brückentag'. But why is it a public holiday in Austria?


This year, Thursday, May 18th, marks Ascension Day, a traditional holiday in Austria. Many workers take advantage of this opportunity to create a nice long weekend taking "bridge days" or "window days", as it is commonly known.

Ascension Day is a Christian festival commemorating the day followers believe Jesus ascended into heaven.

It always falls on the 40th day after Easter Sunday, resulting in its date varying each year. In Austria and Germany, it is referred to as Christi Himmelfahrt.

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Why is it a holiday in Austria?

The holiday holds significance in the Christian church as a major event. Its origins can be traced back to early Christian times, with references to the Ascension found in various passages of the New Testament.

Christians celebrate the event which commemorates the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. 40 days after Jesus' resurrection on Easter Sunday. The date, therefore, always falls on a Thursday. According to Christian belief, the day marks the culmination of Jesus' earthly ministry and signifies his return to the heavenly realm.

Given Austria's deep religious roots, Ascension Day is a national holiday and joins other Christian celebrations as an official bank holiday throughout the country.

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How is it celebrated in Austria?

In Austria, various regional customs are practised on Ascension Day. Processions take place in villages and, in rural areas, across fields during the so-called "days of supplication". These processions have been a tradition since the sixth century and can occur on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays.

Some churches mark Ascension Day by pulling a statue of the resurrected Jesus through a hole in th ceiling through the church's attic.

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Culinary traditions often include poultry dishes being served on this day. Additionally, in some parishes, Holy First Communion ceremonies take place on Ascension Day, which would otherwise occur on White Sunday.

The holiday is equivalent to a Sunday, meaning that stores and supermarkets - with few exceptions - will be closed. Schools, banks and other establishments also close. 


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