It seems unbelievable that a world famous ski resort such as Mayrhofen in the Ziller Valley would want to banish winter. However, this tradition has its beginnings in a time when local people lived from nature’s generosity and were dependent, to a large degree, on the weather. It’s therefore no wonder that farming communities used to view the snow and ice as natural enemies. The weather could literally mean the difference between life and death in the mountains. At this time the terms powder snow, alpine skiing, ice climbing or ski touring did not exist. And there was definitely no such thing as après-ski!
Noise to drive the winter away
Even though the tradition of Grasausläuten has been practiced in the Ziller Valley, in the region around Schwaz and in many communities in the Karwendel mountains for centuries, I am sure that there are many Tiroleans who have never heard of it. I will admit that I also only discovered it myself a couple of years ago. Grasausläten is an age-old Tyrolean springtime tradition which still exists along with the traditions of Aperschnöllen (oder Aperschnalzen), Scheibenschlagen and Hexenverbrennen am Funkensonntag. And all of these traditions have one thing in common: they involve deafening levels of noise.
Aperschnöllen or -schnalzen involves young men cracking huge whips with incredible skill and resounding fire-cracker noises. Scheibenschlagen is the lighting of wooden discs or straw balls before flinging them down the mountain. Finally, the bonfires of the Hexen- or Märzverbrennen am Funkensonntag are meant to well and truly banish winter from the valley. Especially, when the ‘Hex’ on the bonfire explodes with an ear-splitting bang!
However, it doesn’t surprise me that Grasausläuten particularly thrives in the Ziller Valley . Traditions tend to be that much more important in communities where they could easily be forgotten. However, perhaps it is merely the deafening noise which makes it so popular. Imagine the noise of a Harley Davidson parade without the motorbikes!
Grasausläuten: Young boys ringing cow bells
Grasausläuten doesn’t just happen haphazardly. It is an organised noise, planned and carried out by the community and involving all types of animal bells. Usually groups of young boys are responsible for the noise. Dressed in their lederhosen and hats with a feather and carrying bells they walk across meadows and fields and through the villages. Often the adults don’t want to be outdone by the youths and reach for any available nearby instrument to accompany the ear-splitting din.
Traditionally, Grasausläuten takes place on ‘Jörgitag’ (St George’s day) on the 23rd April, which is celebrated as Erdäpfel-Stecktag in other areas of Tyrol.
No pain, no gain
It wouldn’t be a Tyrolean tradition if the participants were not duly rewarded for their efforts. The young noise-makers are treated by the farmers to a variety of sweet treats, whereas the older participants are usually offered a stiff drink in the form of a Zillertaler Meisterwurz – what else would you expect in the Ziller Valley!
Here’s to the arrival of spring!