Christmas is the most important holiday celebrated in Austria. The Christmas season begins in late November with immense festive planning carried out by the Austrians for Christmas Day. 'Saint Nicholas Day' is a highly important day for the people of Austria. The towns are crowded with people doing their shopping activities, days before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, all shops, theatres and restaurants are closed, as people spend the day with their families. On this day, people decorate the Christmas tree in a beautiful manner and arrange the manger to display the 'Nativity scene'. 'Christkind' is believed to be the Christmas gift-bringer who gifts children on Christmas Eve. As per Austrian traditions, people who reside in the mountains descend to the towns below, with torches in their hands and light their way through the night. Read on to find out what makes Austrian Christmas customs, traditions and celebrations different and special from the other nations.
Christmas Season In Austria
Christmas season in Austria begins from late November. The Advent, which is a period for the preparation of Christmas, begins four weeks prior to Christmas Eve. People in Austria create Advent wreaths that are made from evergreen twigs and adorned with ribbons and candles. These are hung on main doors and are prominently visible during the festive season. The Advent period is marked by the extravagant shopping activities. Christmas markets are flooded with people shopping for gifts, decorations and other Christmas requirements. The Austrians also celebrate 'Saint Nicholas Day', which falls on December 6th. One can spot St. Nicholas or 'Heiliger Nikolaus' dressed in sparkling robes and roaming the streets with his selfish companion, 'Knecht Rupnecht'. St. Nicholas gives children presents and also treats children to apples, sweets and nuts.
Every town in Austria is decorated with a Christmas tree, which is adorned radiantly. They even decorate an extra Christmas tree with bread crumbs and treats for the birds. A Christmas tree is considered the most essential element in Austrian Christmas celebrations. They decorate the trees with ornaments, straw stars, candies and other goodies. According to tradition, families who live in the mountains, descend to the villages below at night, and carry candles/torches with them to light the path. The village squares and churches are crowded with Christmas carolers. It is customary for Austrian farmers to chalk the initials of the 'Three Wise Kings' on their stable doors to protect their herds from sickness in the following year.
Christmas Eve Celebrations
One can witness a lot of festive preparations before Christmas Eve. All shops, movie theatres, concerts, restaurants and even night clubs are closed on Christmas Eve. The Christmas tree is lit in front of the whole family and then everyone gathers around the tree to sing Christmas carols. The most popular Christmas carol is 'Silent Night, Holy Night', written by Austrian music composers, Josef Mohr and Franz Gruber. Austrian families attend the Midnight Mass at church and then, return home to enjoy the Christmas feast. Austrian customs involve the playing of brass instruments at the church tower for the people in the village to hear.
A beautiful manger is arranged on Christmas Eve to display the 'Nativity Scene'. Most families use mangers that have been passed down from one generation to the other. The 'showing of the Christ Child' is an old Austrian custom where people sing Christmas carols, while a manger is carried from one house to another.
A grand feast is served after the people return home from the church and the whole family sits at the dinner table to enjoy the feast. Baked or fried carp is the main dish served for the dinner. 'Sachertorte', which is a chocolate apricot cake, is one of their favourite desserts. The 'Weihnachtsbaeckerei' are popular Austrian cookies served at the dinner table during Christmas.
Christkind, The Christmas Gift-Bringer
Children in Austria are told that 'Christkind' or the 'Christ Child' decorates the Christmas tree and bring presents for the children on Christmas Eve. The Christkind is depicted as a fair baby with angelic wings, resembling baby Christ. Children write letters to Christkind a month before Christmas, asking him for gifts. As per traditions, the adults decorate the Christmas tree secretly and place the presents under the Christmas tree while the children are asleep. A special room is allotted with the Christmas tree and the presents. This room is locked, and once the adults have decorated the tree and left the presents, they ring a bell as per Austrian customs. The children, on hearing the tinkling of the bell, rush to the special room and are tricked into believing that Christkind decorated the tree and left presents for them.
Christmas is the most important time of the year for Austrians and is celebrated with great enthusiasm. The festivities begin weeks before Christmas Day and people head out to the Christmas markets to shop for the necessary items required for the festival.
Christmas is celebrated uniquely in Austria. Learn about the customs, traditions and celebrations of Austria during Christmas.