For 6 months I’ve had the following written on my calendar for the last Saturday of April, 2012: “Eeyore’s Birthday Party, Pease Park, Austin, TX.” The problem is, until 2 weeks ago, I had no idea why I was saving the date. Austin’s counter-culture seems to count the days until the next year’s Eeyore’s Birthday Party from the day after the last party, but no one can really explain what this party is all about. When I asked people to explain what exactly IS Eeyore’s Birthday Party, the answer has been “You just have to experience it for yourself.” You see, the party arguably doesn’t even fall on Eeyore’s birthday, it pretty much has nothing to do with Winnie the Pooh, and the festival’s website gives very little information about the purpose or the scope of the event.
Austin is one of those crazy fun cities in which a musical event or festival seems to be happening every single weekend. Often there are so many good options that I feel like I need to toss a coin just to make a decision. But the last weekend in April was different. I wasn’t even tempted to attend the Wiener Dog Races, the Austin Food and Wine Festival or the Dragon Boat Festival and Race. This weekend was all about discovering for myself why the people of Austin have celebrated Eeyore’s birthday every year for the past 49 years.
I arrived with my friends Ann and Brad on Saturday, April 28 with wide eyes and a huge smile. THIS was like nothing I had ever experienced. The festival involved most people dressed in random costumes, a unicycle football match, a maypole, three drum circles, scattered nudity, a dog costume contest, hula hoops, sword fighting, live music, and loads of hippies not so discreetly smoking weed in the hammocks they hung from the trees in the park. Although the children’s area offered Winnie the Pooh themed Cornhole games, the only thing I noticed even remotely Eeyore-like was a live donkey parading around the park wearing a wreath of colorful feathers around his neck.
Eeyore’s Birthday Party began in 1963 when a UT English professor found a unique excuse to throw a pre-finals picnic. According to local legend, students feasted on honey sandwiches, drank from a garbage pail of lemonade and hosted a donkey and a maypole. The donkey and the maypole have returned every year, but the rest of the spring party has evolved, eventually moving from campus to Austin’s Pease Park. A wide array of food and beverages are now offered in lieu of honey sandwiches, with the proceeds benefiting local non-profit organizations.
Although I did bang on a drum in one of the drum circles for awhile, most of our time was spent people watching and gulping down copious amounts of water while we searched out shade to escape from the searing sun. The event was fun, albeit a bit weird. Yet perhaps that’s part of the point, as the city’s slogan is Keep Austin Weird.
So now that I’ve experienced Eeyore’s Birthday Party for myself, am I better able to explain what it is? Not really. But I can say that I already have an entry in my calendar for the last Saturday of April, 2013. It reads: “Eeyore’s Birthday Party, Pease Park, Austin, TX.”
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