The Christmas season is much anticipated in Austria, and the festivities culminate with a public holiday observed across the country on 25 December – Christmas Day.
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Festivities begin with the Feast of St. Nicholas at the beginning of December. Friends and families gather together, narrate stories and attend midnight mass. Holiday dinners typically consist of a baked goose or ham, mulled wine and desserts such as rich chocolate mousse.
The four Sundays before Christmas mark the Advent season. Families create garlands from intricately woven green twigs that surround four candles. Each Sunday, families light one candle.
Evergreen trees are brought indoors and decorated with gold and silver ornaments, straw stars, nuts and sweets wrapped in brightly-coloured foil. The trees also bear conventional lighting. However, the lights are not typically turned on until Christmas Eve.
During the holiday season, towns and cities large and small establish holiday markets in the town square. This tradition dates back to the 13th century. Here, shoppers find freshly roasted chestnuts, warm wine and an assortment of arts and crafts, decorations, food, gifts and wines. There are typically items that appeal to young and old alike.
Though Santa does visit the country, Saint Nicholas, Krampus and Kristkindl are Austria’s main holiday figures and appear on individual days – Krampus being an evil character who arrives to frighten and warn children to behave.