Christmas is the most festive season in Austria. Find out about Austrian Christmas traditions and what makes their celebrations different from the way the holiday is celebrated in the rest of the world.
The overwhelming majority of the population of Austria is Christian. So naturally Christmas is the most important holiday for the Austrians. The Christmas season kicks off from early December as the giver of gifts Saint Nicholas is highly awaited by the public. A man dressed up in a glittering red robe can be seen giving away apples and other edibles to people on the streets.
The city is jam packed with last minute shoppers on Christmas Eve. The scene on the city streets is nothing less than frantic. It is only the countryside where you will find some peace and quiet as these areas have their own quiet traditions.
Farmers can be seen chalking the initials of the three wise men on the door of their stables. B for Balthazar, C for Casper and M for Melchoir can be seen chalked out on many stable doors. This is done with the belief that it will protect the herd from harmful diseases in the year to come.
The Christmas trees are decorated and lit up the night before. An interesting aspect of the Austrian Christmas culture is the shelter seekers. These are groups of men that go around plodding through the snow and putting up street theatre performances of Mary and Joseph and how they sought shelter on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve also sees the families living in the mountains descending down to the valley where they illuminate the night with torches. These torches are used to lighten up their way. Along the way you will find carolers singing their melodies and trying to guide the people to Christmas services. All kinds of shops and out door activities are closed on this day because this evening is to be spent with the family.
The intimate celebrations at home
Families return home after paying their visit to the Church. It is at home that the real intimate celebrations begin. The Christmas Eve dinner is the main event of the night often served with fried carp. The famous sachertorte and different kinds of chocolates are served as dessert. The Austrians also have special crescent shaped cookies served during Christmas time.
Following the dinner a bell is rung which opens the door to the lit up Christmas tree. The Christmas tree is highly decorated with glittering lights, gold and silver garlands, colored ornaments and of course candies and cookies. Beneath the tree are kept mangers that have been handed down through the generations.
The head of the family reads a passage from the Bible and then the whole family engages in singing traditional Christmas Carols. The Silent Night and the O Tannenbaum are the most popular carols of the night. Following these rituals the families take to exchanging gifts with each other.
The strikingly different thing about Christmas in Austria is that there is no concept of Santa Claus. Rather children are made to believe that a winged golden haired baby brought them the gifts and he is known as Kristkindl. This character is supposed to symbolize baby Christ.