Topsy Turvy

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Herrengasse, the main drag here in Graz is covered by a web of upsidedown Christmas trees.

Right before I left the U.S. all the morning talk show were extolling the virtues of upsidedown Christmas trees. You can put more and bigger presents underneat them. You can purchase the artificial tree with a stand at the top... oh wait, it's at the bottom. Or you can buy a traditional tree and just hang it from the ceiling to take up less floor space and fit, even more presents, underneath. Are you starting to see a trend here?

I've ready and heard, and read, some complaints about this. Apperently Graz does something new and different every year, but for everyone, including myself when I first saw them, I was a little surprised at this level of "artsy fartsy."

So, I was a little shocked that such blatant commercialisim would hit Europe, so early.

But when I saw them at night... I changed my mind.

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Herrengasse is turned into a grand ballroom. The trees become the chandaliers. People dance around crunching on discarded maroni (chestnut) shells and toasting with a mug of warmed mulled wine.


Night image, courtesy of Graz Tourist Board.


St. Nick and his sidekick

Ok, since my scary devil on the street experience I've been able to find out more details about what it all means. Apparently, what I saw - a little early for St. Nick's day - were Krampus.

On the evening of St. Nicholas day (December 5th) we were invited to an Austrian household to experience this tradition. We drank tea, sang songs along with a guitar awaiting the arrival of St. Nicholas. We heard a knock at the door.... in came a man dressed like a bishop and his helper (Krampus). Generally Krampus didn't used to look like such a Hollywood version of the Devils I saw. But he is supposed to be dark, hairy, horny, mischievous and with a long red tongue.

When the door opened Tortellino ran towards it. When he saw the golden robe and pointy hat, he ran right back to the safety of my legs. St. Nicholas read a prayer mentioning the name of every child and noting if they had been good or bad. If they had been bad, the Krampus would give them a little tap on the head with a birch tree branch (nobody was bad during this visit). If they were good, St. Nicholas gave them a red bag with their name on it filled with nuts and fruit (and candy and chocolates).

Then, every child was blessed and the visit ended with the kids tearing their sacks open and St. Nicholas and the Krampus leaving the home.
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This week, we celebrate the Italian Santa Lucia on the 13th - I still have to find out what that is all about. It was so automatic when I was a little girl but now that I'm a parent I need to find out all the details so that Tortellino can experience the full holiday.

In Europe December is one feast day after the other - through mid-January - so they really do feel like Holidays with something different to celebrate every week. In the US kids just have Thanksgiving and Christmas day.


The Running of the Devils

Last night, I was rushing through Graz to meet hubby and the tortellino. I shot down Burgergasse and got to Tummel platz. There, I started seeing a crowd and hearing horrible sounds - I thought they were really bad street musicians pounding on pots and pans with wooden sppons.

I squeeze through "Ashudligung, excuse me" and start heading down Hans - Sachs - Gasse (a funnel-like street that takes you to the more popular Herrengasse). I was focused on my feet and busy trying to meet hubby and Tortellino in a hurry when out of the corner of my eye something was quite wrong.

A fuzzy figure had just run past me.

I looked up, and saw a herd of about 40 of hairy, horned figures scratching and hopping their way on the cobblestone street towards me. Some short, some tall, all with real horns about 36" long sprouting up and arching violently back. Fangs and nails were all I saw until one of them came running up to me holding a black hairy whip with a tuft at the end -- like a tail. I was too shocked to move more quickly than I did. I ducked in a doorway and I was whipped by the tail on my legs. I peeked out and a very tall, gray and white one, was coming towards me - at this point I was practically hysterical - I raised my arms to cover my face and he was gone, now a short black one was hobbling in my direction. I was completely trapped and couldn't make it further along down the street, the only thing I could do is turn towards the stone wall and close my eyes - I didn't want to see whoever or whatever was going to come next.

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Bang! BANG! Bang! Bang! Bang! BANG!

The metal kept pounding, louder, louder, louder!

I heard laugher.

I uncovered my face and a crowd of people was following the devils laughing and joking and clapping.

I was shaking so hard I didn't even feel the phone vibrating in my pocket. I got to our designated meeting place, shaken and disheveled.

Where was hubby and Tortellino? I called them on the cell..

"There was something coming towards us so we started to head back home"

"Come get meeeeeeeeee!", I screamed through sobs. I felt like a little 9 year old girl. I still couldn't pull myself together.

What kind of pagan custom is this?!? This was worse and more horrible than Halloween - maybe it wouldn't have been that scary if I had been prepared. If someone had told me.

We finally met and the banging was coming back or way. Apparently, they were running back and forth on Hans-Sachs-Gasse.

"I want to go seem them," hubby said with excitement. A woman came running from the crowd screaming, I said "go, go, go but leave Tortellino with me."

Tortellino and I tucked ourselves in the well-lit the entrance of a jewelry store a safe distance away and focused on watches- tortellino really likes watches.

"Tick, tock, tick, tock, I'm a little kookoo clock"

Bang! BANG! Bang! Bang! Bang! BANG!

(There is noooooo way I'm turning around to see what's happening)

"Cookoo, Cookoo, Cookoo... it's three o'clock!"

Hubby comes strolling back laughing and smiling.

"People have babies on their shoulders and the devils come close and play with them. It must be some kind of ringing away the autumn to bring in the winter - I saw something similar when I lived in Germany."

"Ha, ha, lots of fun when you're in a crowd of people laughing - not so fun if you're unprepared standing alone against a wall"

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI was feeling a little better now, but not objective enough to go see the devils making their way back up the street. At least hubby was sensible enough not to ask.

"Let's go look at the Ice Sculptures," he said; and we ducked into the Landhaus courtyard.

Photos courtesy of Grazer Woce - I didn't have my wits about me to actually take a picture!