I feel very fortunate to be able to spend the time before Christmas in Europe. I do not want to sound too melodramatic, but I really get into Christmas mood when I have the chance to spend the time with my friends and family before the 24th. Living abroad made me realize that in contrast to the Christmas traditions of the English speaking world, those from Austria are much lesser known. Furthermore, there are quite some differences.
1) We Start the Christmas Month with an Advent Calendar
For Austrians, especially for kids (but also for adults), the Christmas month starts with opening the first door of your advent calendar on December 1st. There are many different types of calendars: traditional paper calendars with drawings behind the doors, chocolate calendars or even very personal self-made ones.
2) Adventkranz (Advent Wreath)
Another way to celebrate the “countdown” to Christmas is what we call “Adventkranz”. I found the English translation “Advent wreath” but I am not sure how common this expression actually is. It is basically a round garland made from fir branches serving as the base of four candles. Every so-called “Advent Sunday” (i.e. the four Sundays leading to Christmas), we light one candle. In a lot of families, the lighting of these candles is celebrated by singing Christmas songs.
3) Christkind instead of Santa Clause
Children in Austria do not believe in Santa Clause. They believe in Christkind. It is actually very difficult to describe this Christmas personality. When I was a child, I thought Christkind looks like an angel. It is not personified as much as Santa Clause. Christkind is not depicted in our windows or on the streets. You can see the influence of American movies, as Santa Clause has made his way into our Christmas decorations as well.
4) Krampus and Nikolaus
Even though our presents are brought by Christkind, Santa Clause is somehow represented. However, he visits our house on a different day: on December 6th. Furthermore, we call him Nikolaus (i.e. Saint Nick). If the kids were nice during the past year, Nikolaus visits the house on the evening of the 6th. He has a big golden book and reads from it. Usually he emphasizes how nice the kids were. But he also has some remarks for improvement of their behaviour. I have to say that I was always terrified of this guy when I was a child. (I think it was because he always told me the same stuff every year which I did not want to hear…)
If the kids were naughty, Krampus comes to the house on the evening of December 5th. I must have been a very good child, because he never made his way into our house. Krampus is really scary (even scarier than Nikolaus for me 🙂 ) and I still feel a bit uneasy if I have to leave the house on that evening. The reason is that there are a lot of men dressing up as Krampusses and running through the towns and villages. I am not exaggerating, it is a really scary night. If you do not believe me, there is a hilarious Youtube video of Christoph Waltz explaining Krampus.
5) The Main Event is the Night of the 24th
Unlike in the US or UK, we get our presents on Christmas Eve. Kids usually have to wait until 5-6 pm until “Christkind is ready with decorating the tree and bringing the presents”. While it is common to decorate the Christmas tree after Thanksgiving in the US, we do not have a Christmas tree before the 24th. For kids, December 24th probably feels like the longest day of the year. We used to spend the day at my grandmother’s playing games and watching movies. At around 4 pm we went to church and then we finally went back home and saw if we were nice enough during the year to get our presents.
The 25th and the 26th are public holidays which we usually spend with our extended families.
6) Turkey Is not the Only Christmas Dish
While some families do eat turkey on the 24th, it is not “the” typical dish like in the English speaking world. Carp is a very popular dish on Christmas Eve in a lot of Austrian households. However, I cannot remember any Christmas Eve dinner at my parents with carp. We eat different dishes every year and decide on the festive meal two to three weeks before Christmas.
7) Christmas Cookies
Christmas Cookies are an important part of our diet in December. Austrians love to eat pastry and this passion intensifies during Christmas time. A lot of households still make their own cookies. In my family, my grandmother is the main “supplier” and my mum also makes some cookies. The variety of cookies is endless: from short pastry, to chocolate biscuits, to the famous Vanillekipferl (they are being translated as Vanilla Crescent Cookies, but I think my picture illustrates it a bit better). My granny bakes over 20 types of cookies. Even though she is aged 77, baking cookies for us is her mission every December. Watch my video to get an insight into my granny’s bakery!
What Happened Last Week
Just a quick recap of last week: I went to Budapest to do an interview with the director of the Austrian Cultural Forum and film at their exhibition opening. I did have about two hours to take a walk and explore the Christmas markets and the beautifully decorated streets. (And enjoy a coffee and cake at Gerbeaud Café. 🙂 )
I spent the weekend with friends in Milan and had an amazing time. It was quite busy but I have to say, Milan is beautiful at this time of the year. Apart from obvious big Christmas trees at the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele and in front of the Duomo, the area around Montenapoleone was one of my personal highlights. On Sunday, my dad celebrated his 60th birthday with a big party with family and friends. To sum up, it was a perfect week to catch up with everyone I have not seen in a very long time.