The “keep Austin weird” slogan is ubiquitous now, but it is true that there are plenty of quirky Austin traditions and events. Natives to the area grow up accustomed to holidays, customs and yearly rituals that would sound bizarre anywhere else.
Beloved Austin Traditions
The O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships
Austin is home to the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships, a competition that rewards gunnery and wordplay each May in honor of Austin native author O. Henry. It consists of two separate contests: Punniest of Show, where contestants perform prepared routines, and Punslingers, which involves improvised punning on provided topics. Beginning in 1977, the Pun-Off has caused both delight and groans at the puns it’s brought into the world, and has become a beloved yearly tradition. It’s Austin, so of course it must also have live music — it does — as well as food trucks to feed and water the audience under the hot sun. You can even practice making puns on the group’s Facebook page — that is, if you’re the kind of person who has a pun time with that kind of thing.
Perhaps even weirder among Austin traditions of celebrating Eeyore’s birthday each year — yes, the fictional Winnie the Pooh character. In A.A. Mines’ original Winne the Pooh stories, there’s an incident where Eeyore thinks his friends have forgotten his birthday — Austin makes up for this perceived slight each year by celebrating Eeyore at an all-day event in April with live music (of course), colorful costumes, games and drum circles. It’s a great event for kids and families, but fun for everyone who likes having a uniquely good time and enjoys exercising their imagination a bit. The event actually began at the University of Texas in 1963, where it was a small celebration amongst English students, but was embraced by Austin and now has multiple organizations involved, as well as benefitting local nonprofits. Games include a costume contest and an egg toss, and a live donkey and maypole are on site as well.
Trail of Lights
Christmas may not be the first holiday that comes to mind when thinking of warm, temperate Texas, but Austin’s annual Trail of Lights Christmas tradition is a beautiful and unique custom unlike that of any other city. Traditionally, a Yule Log is lit in Zilker Park — although for some years that wasn’t possible due to burn bans and other obstacles — and the park is full of light and festivity, including a lit up Zilker Tree. For two weeks, events and activities like ice carving, dancing and entertainment, North Pole workshops, arts and crafts and — as always — food trucks can keep the whole family busy and in the holiday spirit. Kids will love hanging out with Santa, games and crafts; adults can enjoy the breathtaking light displays that illuminate the wintry sky with a soft glow.
There’s far, far more to enjoy when it comes to Austin traditions, from the Kite Festival to the Austin Museum of Popular Culture to the weird and wonderful Cathedral of Junk — certainly enough to fill a lifetime and more.