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Christmas Traditions in Austria

In Austria there is no Santa. Instead the baby Christ and his host of angels fly down to decorate, give trees and presents. And rather than putting the Christmas tree up for most of the month where it can be enjoyed by all, it’s hidden away and elaborately decorated with real candles, cookies, elaborate manger depictions and the like. Until Christmas Eve the tree is under wraps at which point it will be revealed, in a rather dramatic fashion, to the children of the house. Families descend from the Alps to the valleys below them and the woods are bright with their torches. While shelter seekers, people from the villages, stumble through snow as they reenact Mary and Joseph’s search for lodgings on the eve of Christ’s birth.

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Farmers paint the initials of the three wise men on the archway of their stable door to protect their herds from illness. Around the tree at night the man of the house reads The Christ Child and the family joins in afterwards with caroling. Presents are given and the families have successfully secured this history laden tradition in the minds of the coming generation. Saint Nicholas, the Austrian replacement for our own jolly man in red, arrives weeks before on December 6th, which is his Saint’s day. Accompanied by his devilish sidekick, Nicholas goes through towns giving candy and fruit to the nice children while his comrade calls for the bad with the invitation to feel the string of his golden rod. Together the two men seem to symbolize the age old division between what’s naughty and nice. All in all a fun-filled holiday, ripe with hand carved figurines and mass pilgrimages.

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