Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

Ratschen during Holy Week

Applicant: Franz Ederer
Province: Burgenland, Carinthia, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Tyrol, Vorarlberg, Vienna
Domain: Social Practices
Year of inclusion: 2015

Ratschen (ratcheting) is a noisemaking tradition that is practiced in many parts of Austria in various forms during the day preceding Easter. A central element is the so-called Ratsche (ratchet), a mechanical percussion instrument made of wood, the sound of which is meant to replace the tooling of the silent church bells from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday. In the most common form of ratcheting, children go through the community at various times, making noise and chanting according to an established sequence. The chant can vary from region to region and are either passed on from older children to younger ones or taught by an adult supervisor. The most common chant is the so-called "Eng´lisher Gruß", or Angels´ Greeting: "We ratchet, we ratchet the Angels´ Greeting, that every Catholic Christian must pray. Get down, get down, get down on your knees, say three `Our Father´ and an ´Ave Marie´." Following this ratcheting, the children are rewarded with money, sweets, or Easter Eggs in the so-calles "Absammeln" (collection).

Ratschen is practiced in large parts of Austria and involves mostly acolytes and the members of scouting groups and church youth organizations.
The origins of this tradition can no longer be ascertained with any exactitude. Ratschen probably grew out of early forms of wooden prayer tablets, and the term itself has been used since the late Middle Ages. The tradition in which local youth go out ratcheting originated in the 18th century. While participation used to be limited to boys (mostly those boys serving as acolytes), the period since the late 20th century has increasingly seen this tradition extended to girls. Ratschen adheres to a ritualized sequence that alternates between ratcheting and chanting. For the most part, the participating children play equal roles, though some Lower Austrian groups accord one child the role of group leader.