GRUMPY OPINION: Down With The Hallowieners!

Not everyone in Austria loves Halloween. As editor Binu Starnegg a.k.a. Grumpy McPartypooper would like to explain.

NOTE: This grouchy holiday opinion emanated like swamp vapor from beloved editor Binu Starnegg and is a very good example of what Austrians might call sudern, which means to gripe or moan. At excruciating length. The opinions expressed here are – at most – those of the author and do not reflect the views of METROPOLE. Those who love jack-o-lanterns and the candy-seeking undead and will find spooktacular lists of things to do for both kids and adults who want to party right. Happy haunting!

Phooey to plastic Halloween in Austria

Every year, there are a few more. The night before the Austrian public holiday of Allerheiligen (All Saint’s) used to be a time for quiet reflection. But in recent years, more and more costumed Austrian kids are showing up at the doorstep, egged on by well-meaning parents. Gone are those October 31sts where you could just unwind in your sweatpants with a few cans of Ottakringer – now you’re fearfully expecting company, which will undoubtedly be very disappointed if you don’t have anything but soggy pickles to offer. They are not unlike religious evangelists, but their crestfallen faces are far more heartrending.

graveyard cemetary
Here lies Binu Starnegg’s sense of fun.

Perhaps the surge is due to the introduction of Herbstferien, but it’s more likely just another harbinger of cultural globalization. Every Austrian I know saw Halloween first on Friends or Brooklyn 99 or How I met your Mother (or any movie by Tim Burton) and is now trying to replicate it, bright-eyed with the novelty. Fasching in Fall, with even less Catholic subtext!

But just like an Oktoberfest in Missouri, Austrians can only ever hope to reproduce the superficial trappings, never the cultural context and underpinnings. Never the spirit of the whole thing.

You can wear a costume and take your kids trick-or-treating at your Gemeindebau; but you can’t give them the memories running from old man Hooper after he spotted you “trespassing.” You can carve a jack-o-lantern with your kid, but they will never understand the thrill of stealing that pumpkin from a patch somewhere in New Hampshire. Enjoying your spoils the next day is only half the fun when there’s no mischief – the candy may be objectively better than the crappy tootsie rolls and candy corn of yesteryear, but the stakes are far lower.

Even the adult version is sorely lacking. Trying to hook up with a spectacularly under-dressed nurse (or a hunky Frankenstein) feels forced here. I’ve tried – her Tyrolean accent ruined it. Doing the monster mash after someone spilled hard lemonade (or, more likely, Radler) on your costume is equally discomfiting anywhere, but across the pond, it’s somehow more fitting.

Night of the living dead folklore

Halloween doesn’t work in Austria for the same reason that a Perchtenlauf would never, ever work in Chicago. You can’t simply adopt traditions – they have to be passed from generation to generation until the original meaning is forgotten and the customs are seared into the collective unconscious of an entire culture. Everyone needs to participate without question – simply because that’s the way it’s always been. Halloween here is just, well, Austria putting on a costume.

Mind you, traditions – like all living things – can and should change. As the world becomes more interconnected, new spins on old customs are inevitable. Some win over others. Santa Claus is making inroads here, perhaps because even some Austrians feel the notion of the Christkind – a golden-haired infant Jesus – bringing presents is a bit corny.

Binu’s once child-like embrace of magic has died; what remains is pictured here, coming like a zombie searching for braaaaainnns.

But in a world where disingenuous social media have put a premium on “authenticity”, why should we abandon the beautiful little quirks that set us apart? Halloween is one of the very few quintessentially American traditions, the charming custom of a young culture that doesn’t exist in that form anywhere else. Do we need it here?

Traditions, like human organs, aren’t easily transplanted

Whether the Halloween fad will survive long enough to become a part of the Austrian psyche remains to be seen. But perhaps we’ve been collectively going about this the wrong way: Americans in Austria, it is up to you to educate the natives! Place jack-o-lanterns on the curb just so that obnoxious teenagers can smash them! Grown-ups: Next time kids dressed as Cowboys and Indians (cultural appropriation!) show up at your doorstep, teach ‘em about the “trick” part with your garden hose! Kids: pack toilet paper rolls, rotten eggs and firecrackers to retaliate accordingly! Young adults: Flood the Stephansplatz with impromptu monster parades, leaving nothing but beer cans, Bacardi bottles and uneaten jello shots in your wake! And everyone, ignore municipal noise ordinances for the night and – for once – give the neighbors something to complain about! [Please don’t. -Ed.]

We’ll probably all get arrested or deported – but one way or another, Austria will finally learn something about the true spirit of Halloween.

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Binu Starnegg
Manila born, Brooklyn bred and a longtime resident of Vienna, Binu Starnegg is currently managing editor for Metropole, where he completes myriad tasks with style and aplomb. Photo: Visual Hub

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