Saturday, January 07, 2012

High-Speed Carolling

In Austria January 6 (Epiphany) is a public holiday. It comes with the tradition of Sternsinger (clumsily translated as "star boys' singing procession" in this Wikipedia article that tells you all about it). Basically, it is children dressed up as the Three Wise Men, accompanied by an adult from their parish, who go from door to door in their neighbourhood to collect money for charitable projects with a religious background/funding. One of the Wise Men is supposed to be black so usually one child has the dubious pleasure of having their face painted with dark shoe-polish or theatre make-up, depeding on the degree of professionalism in its parish.

To my knowledge the Sternsinger may call upon you any time between Dec. 27 and Jan. 6, but where I live in Vienna, they seem to exclusively do their rounds on Epiphany Day. I suppose I might know more about their "strategy" if I occasionally attended mass in my parish, but I happen to never have set foot into that church , ahem.

Yesterday, I got to see them for the first time. You see, when I still worked at Coma HQ we usually had to work on January 6 to make up for the long Japanese New Year's holiday which would typically last until January 3 or 4. It was always an excrutiatingly dull day at work with no incoming post and all shops or restaurants closed. We usually ended up having lunch at McDonald's... Back when Mr. TD lived with me, I would instruct him to let them in and prepare money and sweets to give to them.

Ever since I have lived on my own again and not had to work on the 6th I always seemed to be out and about when they called. Yesterday, I was actually waiting for them to come, do their job and also leave their "20 C+M+B 12" blessing written on the door in chalk. Contrary to popular belief, the letters don't stand for the names of the magi (Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar), but the Latin Christus mansionem benedicat, which of course means "May Christ bless your house". I digress...

When they still hadn't turned up by 2 p.m. I left home.

The doorbell rang at 5:30 or so when it was already dark outside. I could hear children's voices echoing in the staircase and opened the door to see that they were already halfway round the corner. Realising that someone had opened their door, they virtually jumped back to my doormat, belting out their song without any introduction. I had expected the adult to ask if they could come in or say something by means of greeting, but they just hovered outside my door, singing as if on "fast-forward", then extended their cash-box towards me and pressid a leaflet into my hands. Knowing that it is the custom to give the children sweets for their efforts, I handed them a little sachet of sugar-coated chocolates (see above) each, which the three girls (!) immediately ripped open and devoured. The lady who accompanied them didn't seem programmed to small-talk along the lines of "Oh, I didn't expect you to still be around so late on this cold day" (it was freezing yesterday with gale-force winds blowing) and so the whole spectacle was over in less than 2 minutes or so.

I was quite bewildered by this assault and wondered if there was a) a policy (in Vienna at least) to never cross the thresholds of houses and b) if they had drummed into the kids that time was money and they had to be as quick as possible.


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