Christmas 2017 and 2018
The communities of Austria welcome the Christmas holidays every year with great enthusiasm represented by elaborate decorations and festive meals.
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The traditions practiced are a combination of Catholic and Protestant influences. Though celebrated throughout the month of December, festivities begin with the Feast of St. Nicholas. Friends and families gather together, narrate stories and attend midnight mass. Holiday dinners may consist of a baked goose or ham, mulled wine – Gluhwein – and a rich chocolate mousse for dessert. Though the celebrations enjoyed here closely resemble those experienced in typical German communities, Austrians do have their own collection of traditions.
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. All join together in prayer, sing songs and tell Christmas stories. Evergreen trees are brought indoors and decorated with gold and silver ornaments, straw stars, nuts and sweets wrapped in brightly-colored 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.
Gebackenerkarpfen or fried carp is the main dish served for many traditional Christmas meals. The fish is followed by apricot or chocolate cake and Christmas cookies. Similar to many households around the world, Austrians wrap gifts and place them beneath the Christmas tree. However, these are opened after dinner on Christmas Eve. Children are led to believe that “Kristkindl” stops by and leaves gifts for the youngsters as a means of rewarding good behavior. The arrival of the gifts is declared by the ringing of a bell, which also acts as a remembrance of the arrival of the Christ Child.
For centuries and to this day, families living in the mountains of Austria make their way down the slopes into the valley below on Christmas Eve while singing carols.
On Christmas Eve in Austria in 1818, a particular church’s organ was in a state of disrepair. Not to be dismayed, Father Joseph Mohr composed the now well-known carol “Silent Night.” While the pastor sang, he was accompanied on guitar by Franz Xaver Gruber. The popular song has since been translated into 44 different languages.