by Elke Galvin
October 4th: Erntedank (Thanksgiving) Harvest Fairs
Everyone knows - if not from experience, then from TV - that Thanksgiving is a huge American harvest celebration based on turkey and tradition in late November. Carinthia has a turkey-free way of celebrating harvest time, and it does so earlier than the Americans. Customs and traditions vary, but parishes usually celebrate harvest mass in early autumn with a harvest crown made of corn or wheat. Some bake little bread rolls with this year´s crop to break real bread during eucharist. Some swap grains at the church gates - you might like to see how your local parish celebrates.
If don't go to church, then maybe you'd like to explore a few local customs at your region´s harvest fair. They pop up everywhere in autumn, and I think they're fun even if you are not into beer and greasy sausages (I am not!). Local restaurants and cafés often relocate to the fairground during that time (you might find that they offer limited services in their original homes in those days because they have to run two premises at the same time), and you'll see just about everyone who lives in your vicinity out there at one time or the other. In sync with Emily Dickinsons 'the show is not the show, but they that go' I recommend taking some time to watch people, local musicians and depending on your tastes and bravery, try out a few attractions or let the children have a go. There´s plenty of unhealthy tooth-killing food for them too (and they´ll probably love it). Most fairs have at least a few trampolines, bouncy castles or merry-go-rounds. If it´s a bigger fair they´ll have those funky-lighted wildly spinning things that you´d frankly have to pay ME to make me go on them (if at all!) - but everyone´s entitled to their idea of fun (and even I like watching people spinning around in them).
And then there are the traders and their stock, and that´s what I like best about fairs - they offer all sorts of presumably marvellous cleansing products for leather/glasses/whites/everything. They have creams made of the weirdest ingredients, self-made pottery or jewellery, toys, knives, strange felt caps, you name it. Battery-free milk creamers seem to be this year´s fashion, along with hair comb gadgets that really keep hair in PLACE (guaranteed!). And if you have immigrated to Carinthia from a warmer place and are looking forward to your first Austrian winter, you might want to stock up on long johns and army socks. Some locals have told me go to the fair every year just to re-fill their sock-and-underwear drawers with their favourite brand that is only available once a year on the local fair (so they say, and then they detour down to the beer-and-sausage-tents and aren´t seen again...).
The harvest-celebration-fair-time is, I think, a good way of meeting and getting to know people - and stocking up on a little distraction and entertainment before the days are really short and dark and Carinthia starts to hibernate. True, around Christmas there are Advent fairs, but at harvest fairs you don't freeze your toes and fingers off (just yet), and you don't have to listen to 'Last Christmas' blaring out of the speakers - so grab a friend and go!