Christmas is a time full of customs and traditions making it one of the most wonderful seasons of the year. We’ll introduce you to our most common Austrian Christmas traditions.
1. Advent wreath & Advent calendar
When the first Sunday of Advent comes around there’s an Advent wreath in nearly every Austrian home. Originally, there were 24 candles placed on each wreath. Nowadays, there are only four left. Every Sunday one more candle will be lit, until the fourth and last Sunday of Advent. Today, it is common for all four candles to have the same colour. In contrary to traditional Advent wreaths: there used to be three lilac candles and one pink candle. The pink one marked the third Advent Sunday. Many Austrians also have an Advent calendar to shorten the waiting time until Christmas Eve. From December 1 to December 24, each day another „window“ is opened until Christmas Eve finally has arrived.
2. Barbara twigs
In Austria, December 4 is called “Barbaratag“ and is dedicated to Saint Barbara. Early in the morning that day, people cut small twigs from cherry trees or forsythias. They are put in a vase and placed in the house. If the twig blossoms by Christmas Eve, it is seen as a sign for good luck and health in the following year. In some regions of Austria it also means that a member of your family is going to get married the next year.
3. Saint Nicholas & Krampus
On December 6, Saint Nicholas goes from house to house looking for all the good and well-behaved children to give them little sweets like nuts, mandarins or chocolate. Saint Nicholas is accompanied by Krampus, his beast-like helper who punishes nasty children with his rod. Krampus parades have become especially popular on the evening of December 5, where people dress up as Krampus and roam the town, making a lot of noise and scaring spectators.
4. Christmas cookies
Austrians are big fans of cookies and pastries. When Christmas comes around, many Austrians bake cookies. The most popular ones among Austrians are Vanillekipferl (vanilla crescent cookies), Spitzbuben (rascals) or ginger bread.
The 12 nights around Christmas are called „Rauhnächte“. In those nights, some people prepare a mixture of blaze, incense, palm branches from Easter and consecrated herbals and spread the scent in the whole house. They believe that this custom keeps evil spirits and misfortune out of the house. The most important Rauhnächte are 21.12. (Thomasnacht), 24.12. (Christnacht), 31.12. (Silvesternacht) and 5.1. (Dreikönigsnacht).
6. Christmas Markets
During Christmas time there are temporary Christmas markets all over Austria. You can drink mulled wine, eat sweet treats like gingerbread or sugar roasted almonds. Some markets are also known for traditional handicraft. Here’s our list of five Christmas Markets you shouldn’t miss.
7. Christkind & Christmas Eve
In Austria, children don’t believe in Santa Claus but in the Christkind (Christ Child) who delivers presents to children all over the world. In books and paintings it is often pictured as a child with blonde locks, wings and halo. Some families open the window on the evening of December 24, so the Christkind can come in. Children who are waiting outside are listening if a bell is ringing – that’s the sign that they can enter the room and discover their gifts.