Easter in Austria – a challenge of who can eat the most ham and light the biggest fire

Austria may be a country steeped in religion and tradition, but from what I can tell Easter seems to be mostly about eating ham and lighting huge bonfires!

Easter bonfire Austria
Austrians do bonfires properly!

I’ve written about Easter before (Easter & the Creepy Osterlamm) but 2016 actually marked my first Easter in the country (even though I’ve lived here now for almost 3 years) because the previous two times I was in Oz on holiday.

Easter in Australia for me always simply involved eating copious amounts of chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday (heathen, I know), so I was surprised to discover that the main celebrations in Austraia are on Saturday. And despite my light-hearted title, they do take it very seriously!

The lead up

The weeks leading up to Easter involve a lot of decoration. Eggs are painted, cuttings of Palmkatzerl are gathered and houses are decorated, both inside and out with various Easter-oriented ornaments.

Maundy Thursday & Good Friday

On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, no one eats meat. I had known about the Friday, but it was only when I was cooking up my steak on the Thursday evening that I suddenly realised my mistake. Still, it makes sense not to eat meat a few days prior, because from Saturday on, there’s so much damn ham to be consumed!

Easter Saturday – day

On the Saturday morning, it is very common in Austria to take your basket of HAM and Wurst to church to be blessed. Following that families get together to eat the blessed HAM and drink Most, Austrian apple cider. Plus you should probably also have a schnapps – or two. Apparently when you only drink one schnapps you end up walking funny, whereas two will balance you out (she said drunk at 3pm in the afternoon).

Now I like ham as much as the next person, but the ham meal is pretty much just that – a massive plate of cut ham and Austrian sausage, which you eat topped with mountains of fresh, shredded horseradish – clears the sinuses like nothing else! You eat your meat along with bites of sweet, sultana bread (Reindling), which I love to eat with butter and a cup of tea… not so much with ham. And sure, there might be some sides – boiled eggs definitely – and maybe some capsicum or tomato. But the meat is the main attraction.

When Thomas told me we were going for Easter lunch I mistakenly assumed it was just that – lunch. I was wrong. It was lunch that turned into a drinking session and an afternoon of Uno. And then at around 6, guess what happened. We ate HAM again: the same meal, just on new plates.

Easter Saturday – evening

Easter treecutting
The trees are pruned in preparation

Coming up to Easter, everyone prunes their trees in preparation for spring, saving the cuttings for one thing – the Easter bonfires. These piles of wood grow bigger and bigger as it gets closer to Easter Saturday. And then on that evening, the bonfires are lit.

And I’m not talking about some measly camp fire – I’m talking about the biggest damn bonfire I’ve ever seen! Those with farms or large properties will do their own, but you can also attend ‘organised’ events, where you watch the bonfire being lit, enjoy the fireworks all around, drink beer and talk the night away. In the surrounding hills you can literally see hundreds of fires and the entire valley smells of smoke.

Easter Sunday

On the Sunday you wake up (usually hungover) to the smoking embers of bonfires and an overwhelming smell of smoke. It’s important that you’ve shut all the windows before the fires were lit the night before!

Easter family meal Austria
Lunch at Omas

For lunch, we headed to Omas for (you guessed it!) ham, sausage, eggs, Reindling and Most. After gorging ourselves again it was time to head home, open up the house (finally the smoke has blown out of the valley) and loll around in a lazy, food-induced coma. Of course, that’s until the evening… when you inevitably start hankering for HAM again and luckily, because you had plates of leftovers pushed into your hands after each meal, you can satisfy your cravings.

But please, I need a break from ham now… just for a few weeks!

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