Feeding people during the Lent fasting season may be strange, showing love as well… but traditions are kept alive even as they change and adapt their original intentions.
One such tradition is the Liebstatt Sunday in Gmunden, a pretty little tradition now all around loving – and often, somewhat cheeky – gingerbread hearts.
The tradition goes back to the 17th century and the Corpus Christi brotherhood, which used to feed the poor on the fourth Sunday of the Lent season, the “Laetare” Sunday.
By feeding the poor, they “showed their love” (“Lieb’ b’statten“) – as in love for one’s neighbors.
Later, it became a day when love of a more romantic kind was found – or broken. The city museum is said to have some wax hearts on display, which were used when the latter purpose was fulfilled. Ouch.
Gingerbread Hearts, and Roots that Open
Gingerbread has quite its history in Central Europe, as further north.
The gingerbread hearts here, prominent as they are at the modern Liebstatt Sunday, only go back to the drive towards folklore that took place in the 1930s.
In that time of nationalism and (renewed) industrialization, depression and poverty, old (and “old”) folk costumes and traditions were discovered as a cultural heritage to uphold and support – and things went quite strangely with that.
Shortly after this “folklorisation” took place, it was co-opted by the national socialists and used in ways we’d much rather forget all about.
Now, a lot of this support for traditions and heritage – and the Liebstattsonntag tradition in Gmunden even made it into the UNESCO list of cultural heritage in 2014 – seems to have a better effect; it roots people in their local identity and makes them rather more open to guests from everywhere and anywhere else.
The Heart of the Salzkammergut
The Salzkammergut, at the entrance to which Gmunden is located, is visited by many a tourist, not least to have a look at Hallstatt.
And while the inhabitants of Hallstatt would much rather have fewer visitors who only come for a few hours, the Salzkammergut in general is very open to visitors.
In Vienna, tourists are just as common but somewhat likely to get looked at askance for their foreignness. (And that, even as – or especially as? – Vienna is a city of immigrants.)
In Upper Austria’s Salzkammergut, you are always more likely to be greeted with the traditional “Griass di” (or if there as a couple, “Griass enk“) and welcomed.
If you are a woman and want to wear the traditional / folkloric Dirndl, no matter if you are a local or obviously from far away, you are more likely to get compliments than concerns about cultural appropriation.
And especially at the Liebstattsonntag, you’ll get a Liebstatt gingerbread heart. A hug, too, if you want it.
And if you want to buy a special heart with a special saying, those are available for purchase.
It’s such a heartfelt event, even as it is “only” of local importance (even as other communities in the Salzkammergut have copied it), it could use more visitors who stay longer, see more, rather than just rushing to an Instagram-essential shot at Hallstatt.
I will still head there soon for a few deeper views and to give you some wider ideas of things to do to #GetAtHome in that part of the Alps, I think…
Place: Gmunden, Pfarrkirche (parish church) and Rathausplatz (town square)
Date: 4th Sunday of Lent
How to get there: By train from e.g. Salzburg or Vienna, changing to a local train/express at Attnang-Puchheim; Gmunden also has its tram from the railway station to the promenade at the lake, close to the town square
The Liebstattsonntag Program
The Liebstattsonntag begins with a “farmers” mass in the town church (Pfarrkirche), already visited by locals in the traditional “Goldhauben” (golden hats) and with folk dress.
The church gets very full, though…
People then parade through the old town down to the town square, traditional marching music in front.
At the town square, there are some speeches (in German) about and by the (political) guests of honor and by the head of the folk society (who also says a few words about the tradition).
Then it’s time for the gingerbread hearts…
There are also a few additional activities on offer, e.g. the chance for children to decorate gingerbread hearts or, if the weather is alright, first boat tours of the season on the Traunsee lake.