12 things you should know about Christmas in Austria

Christmas Market – photo – pixabay

Christmas in Austria – The Christmas season in Austria starts in late November – and there are many deeply-rooted folk traditions which can come as a surprise to the uninitiated.

The Advent wreath. Advent begins on the Sunday four weeks before Christmas Eve. On this day no respectable Austrian living room is without an advent wreath, woven from evergreen twigs and decorated with ribbons and four candles. (Originally there were 24 candles on each wreath, but this probably became a fire hazard). On each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, one more candle on the wreath is lit at dinnertime.

Barbara twigs. December 4th is Barbaratag and is dedicated to St Barbara. Some Austrians cut small twigs from cherry trees or forsythias on this day and place them in a vase in the house. If the twig blossoms by Christmas Eve, it is seen as a sign of good luck and health for the following year. In some regions it also means that a member of your family is going to get married.

Christmas markets

These are a typical Austrian tradition. Vienna’s biggest Christmas market on Rathausplatz can be traced back to the year 1298. Almost every small town has its own Christmas or Advent market, and most of them will sell quality handmade products and crafts – rather than cheap tat. They are also a place to meet friends and drink Glühwein (mulled wine) or fruit Punsch, and munch on Lebkuchen and roasted almonds and chestnuts.

Cookies. Austrians are fans of cookies and cakes all year round, but at Christmas it’s traditional to bake your own. The most popular are Vanillekipferl, jam-filled Spitzbuben (rascals) or spiced ginger Lebkuchen.

Smoking nights. The 12 nights around Christmas (from the 24th December to 5th January) are known as the Rauhnächte. On those nights some people will burn a mixture of incense and palm branches from Easter and spread the scent around the house. This is meant to keep evil spirits and misfortune away from the house and family. The most important Rauhnächte are December 21st, 24th and 31st and January 5th.

The tree. The Christmas tree still has an important role in the festive season. Every town sets up its own huge tree on the main square. Most families choose to have a real fir tree, and not a plastic one, and decorate it tastefully with gold, silver and wooden ornaments – modern led lights as well as real candles which of course when lit are never left unattended.

Vienna Town Hall with Advent market winter Skating rink – photo – pixabay

St. Nikolaus

He brings gifts for good children on December 6th. If you have young neighbours you might have noticed some boots left outside their front door (Nikolaus-Stiefel) on the night of December 5th. And if the children have been brav (well-behaved) they will discover that the boots have been filled the next day with gifts and sweets. St. Nikolaus impersonators are often dressed like bishops, and sometimes ride a horse. America’s Santa Claus and Britain’s Father Christmas derive in part from St. Nicholas, although they are associated with Christmas Day.

Krampus.

This hairy half-goat, half-demon figure carrying chains or twigs is a common sight in Alpine towns before Christmas. He’s a companion of St. Nikolaus and is meant to punish any children who have misbehaved. Particularly naughty children are warned that they’ll be bundled into Krampus’ sack and taken to his lair. You’ll see young men dressed as Krampus in traditional events such as Krampuslauf on or around December 5th.

Christkind. Austrian children are told that the Christkind (the Christ child, a blonde winged angel-like figure) brings them their presents as a reward for good behaviour, and even decorates the Christmas tree. Children write their letters and wish lists to the Christkind, and not Santa Claus, in the weeks before Christmas. The arrival and departure of the Christkind is often signalled by ringing a small bell, and some parents will open a window to let the Christkind fly in.

Christmas Eve

This is the day when the real celebrations happen in Austria, not on the 25th. Most shops close early on this day, the lights or candles on the tree are lit for the first time and families gather round to sing carols. Stille Nacht (Silent Night), which was written and performed for the first time in 1818 in the Austrian village of Oberndorf, is still most people’s favourite carol.

Silvester. On New Year’s Eve, Vienna’s entire city centre becomes one big celebration. The Sylvesterpfad (New Year’s Path) starts at 2pm on December 31st and ends at 2am on January 1st. People dance to the sound of the waltz and watch some of the loudest and brightest fireworks displays of any European city. At the stroke of midnight all church bells throughout the country ring in the New Year, and in the larger cities people dance in the streets to the famous Blue Danube waltz.

Bleigiessen. This ancient ritual has its roots in classical Greece. Many Austrians buy little packages of tin or lead from the Christmas markets. Placing the metal in a large spoon, they melt it to a liquid which is then dropped into a bowl of water. The shape the molten metal makes is then used to predict what the New Year may hold.

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Austria at Christmas time!

Christmas market snow globes – photo – pixabay

12 things you should know about Christmas in Austria

The Christmas season in Austria starts in late November – and there are many deeply-rooted folk traditions which can come as a surprise to the uninitiated.

The Advent wreath. Advent begins on the Sunday four weeks before Christmas Eve. On this day no respectable Austrian living room is without an advent wreath, woven from evergreen twigs and decorated with ribbons and four candles. (Originally there were 24 candles on each wreath, but this probably became a fire hazard). On each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, one more candle on the wreath is lit at dinnertime.

Barbara twigs. December 4th is Barbaratag and is dedicated to St Barbara. Some Austrians cut small twigs from cherry trees or forsythias on this day and place them in a vase in the house. If the twig blossoms by Christmas Eve, it is seen as a sign of good luck and health for the following year. In some regions it also means that a member of your family is going to get married.

Christmas markets

These are a typical Austrian tradition. Vienna’s biggest Christmas market on Rathausplatz can be traced back to the year 1298. Almost every small town has its own Christmas or Advent market, and most of them will sell quality handmade products and crafts – rather than cheap tat. They are also a place to meet friends and drink Glühwein (mulled wine) or fruit Punsch, and munch on Lebkuchen and roasted almonds and chestnuts.

Cookies. Austrians are fans of cookies and cakes all year round, but at Christmas it’s traditional to bake your own. The most popular are Vanillekipferl, jam-filled Spitzbuben (rascals) or spiced ginger Lebkuchen.

Smoking nights. The 12 nights around Christmas (from the 24th December to 5th January) are known as the Rauhnächte. On those nights some people will burn a mixture of incense and palm branches from Easter and spread the scent around the house. This is meant to keep evil spirits and misfortune away from the house and family. The most important Rauhnächte are December 21st, 24th and 31st and January 5th.

The tree. The Christmas tree still has an important role in the festive season. Every town sets up its own huge tree on the main square. Most families choose to have a real fir tree, and not a plastic one, and decorate it tastefully with gold, silver and wooden ornaments – as well as real candles which of course when lit are never left unattended.

Christkind

Christkind. Austrian children are told that the Christkind (the Christ child, a blonde winged angel-like figure) brings them their presents as a reward for good behaviour, and even decorates the Christmas tree. Children write their letters and wish lists to the Christkind, and not Santa Claus, in the weeks before Christmas. The arrival and departure of the Christkind is often signalled by ringing a small bell, and some parents will open a window to let the Christkind fly in.

Christmas Markets in Austria

There are Advent markets throughout Austria, as nearly every village hosts a Christmas market, whether it is only a few huts or as in the major cities a few hundred huts.

Wolfgangsee Advent – photo – wolfgangsee tourism

The Wolfgangsee Advent,

Wolfgangsee Advent 2023 is Friday, November 17th to Saturday, December 23rd, 2023

The Wolfgangsee Advent which has been voted as being one of the most beautiful Advent markets in Austria at christmas time. It begins in November with the aromas of roasting chestnuts and hot Glu-wein wafting in the villages. It attracts visitors from far and wide from all over Europe. The market is open 4 days a week Thursday-Sunday and car parks fill up quickly. This is as people decide they want to enjoy the best of the Christmas feeling, that only comes with the Advent markets, particularly when the snow starts to fall in the low lying villages.

With a new floating candle on the lake and the addition of more horse drawn sleigh carriages, plus the Ferry ships on the lake, it can now claim to be one of the most magical Christmas’s experiences. You can visit three Christmas markets in one day!! The ferries go from St Gilgen to St Wolfgang then to Strobl. The Advent markets in these villages, with their unique decorations, excel in authenticity and quality. Hopefully, the weather will be perfect this year for all the Advent markets, from Salzburg to Vienna Christmas markets…..blue skies and sunshine, what more could one ask for?

A matching event program ranges from nativity plays with children to a visit of the Christ Child of the “Licht ins Dunkel” charity. To get comfortably from one village to the next you can use the Ferry boats of Wolfgangseeschiffahrt. This makes it so easy to enjoy the advents in all the villages around the lake, without the need to drive.

Check out the Advent Markets in Austria’s cities

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The Christmas Carol:

The Twelve days of Christmas – the meaning of the song

This popular song was created in England to help young children learn about the basics of Christianity.

According to a few historians this song was first published in a book “Mirth without Mischief” around late 1700. It originated in France and there it was sung by children to play games.

However with time the song became an integral part of the Yuletide. The song has different hidden meanings like the “true love” was none other than God Himself. Here is the song with its derivations:

On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

A Partridge in a Pear Tree: This signifies Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Two Turtle Doves: The Old and the New Testament.

On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Three French Hens: The theological virtues Hope, Love and Faith.

On the 4th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…four calling birds.

The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

On the 5th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

The five golden rings rerepresented the first five books of the Old Testament, which describe man’s fall into sin and the great love of God in sending a Savior.

On the 6th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

On the 7th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit—–Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

On the 8th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

On the 9th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit—–Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience [Forbearance], Goodness [Kindness], Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Continency [Chastity].

On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

The ten lords a-leaping were the Ten Commandments.

On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful Apostles.

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed.

Sleigh Ride in Winter – Image by Tomasz Proszek from Pixabay

Sleigh ride in winter in Austria.

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Christmas in Austria is such a magical time. The snow begins to fall and cover the country in a blanket of white. The Christmas markets are bustling with happy people sharing a joke and a gluwein.

The decorations for sale are not those of the plastic type from the far east! Most are hand made in Austria by local craftsmen. In fact, everyone should try a Christmas in Austria at least once in their lives.

For children, Austria at Christmas.. the magic is everywhere. From the little Santa Claus’s that can been seen climbing on the outside of shops to the decorated Christmas trees at every corner of the local villages. For Austrian children, Christmas is celebrated on 24th December! Not as we celebrate on the 25th December.

The most famous Christmas carol of all time ‘Silent Night’ was written as a poem in 1816 by an Austrian priest called Joseph Mohr. The story behind this is magical itself. The St Nicholas church organ at Oberndorf had broken a few days before Christmas! So, after considering the options, the priest decided to give the poem of Silent Night (Stille Nacht) to his friend Franz Xavier Gruber and the melody for Silent Night was created and it was composed on a guitar!!

Austria at Christmas: Of course most carols are written for Organ/Piano, so he had to write a song for the guitar. He went and sat on the hillside not far from his church and whether by luck or divine intervention, he penned the music to this most famous carol. Stille Nacht or as we know it in English….Silent Night.

Silent Night – carol

The words to the carol are so well known, well at least the first verse is! We have put here all the verses.

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

Photos: Pixabay

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