What is Austrian National Day and why is it celebrated?

Austria celebrates its national holiday on October 26th. Aside from getting the day off work, how did it start and what is there to do on National Day?

The Austrian flag flies above the parliament building

What is Austrian National Day?

October 26th marks the Austrian National Day – the date has only been a public holiday since 1965. 

It was on this day in 1955 that Austria signed its so-called Declaration of Perpetual Neutrality.

It states: “For the purpose of the permanent assertion of its independence externally and for the purpose of the inviolability of its territory, Austria freely declares its perpetual neutrality. Austria will maintain and defend this with all means at its disposal.”

It includes a commitment that “Austria will not join any military alliances and will not permit the establishment of any foreign military bases on her territory”.

But what prompted it?

After the end of the Second World War, Austria was jointly occupied by the Allied forces of France, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union. While Austrians welcomed the end of the war, over time they grew tired of the Allied occupation. 

The Austrian parliament had little control over major affairs, because the Allied Control Council was able to veto any political or legislative action by the elected parliament. That changed in 1955 when the Austrian State Treaty was signed, handing power of the country back over to Austria, and Austria committed to its “perpetual neutrality”.

From 1946 to 1954, Austria celebrated Liberation Day on April 13th, commemorating the end of the Second World War. 

(In normal times) what happens on Austrian National Day?

Other than the hoisting of what feels like 100 flags for every resident, the Federal Government celebrates the day with a number of events. 

The president addresses the nation in a TV address, as well as honouring the victims of the war resistance and laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This is also the day when new recruits of the Austrian Armed Forces are sworn in. 

These events will took place as usual in 2021, but other parts of the festivities were pared back due to pandemic restrictions. 

Many museums offer free or discounted entry on National Day.

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

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?

Christi Himmelfahrt: Why is Ascension Day 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.

READ ALSO: Brückentag, Fenstertag or Zwickeltag? All the German words for getting longer holiday weekends

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.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to maximise your annual leave in Austria in 2023

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.

READ ALSO: Why is Good Friday not a holiday in Austria?

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.