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Christmas traditions

“Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt……“ (Candle, candle burning bright….“) - that’s the first line of a poem little children chant before lighting yet another candle on the wreath every Sunday during Advent. Just one of the many small and big Christmas traditions still alive in Austria.

The Advent period in Austria is also quaintly known as “the most peaceful time of the year.“ It is a time when you fall back on ancient customs that have been handed down from generation to generation: things like baking biscuits, putting up Christmas decorations, singing Christmas carols plus many other much-loved traditions which families share in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Saint Nicholas and Krampus

Perchtenmaske aus dem SalzburgerLand © SalzburgerLand TourismusPerchtenmaske aus dem SalzburgerLand © SalzburgerLand Tourismus

Advent time is family time! Enjoying the first snow, experiencing nature up close on your skis or skates, tossing your Christmas letter into the fireplace as you pray all your wishes and requests to the “Christkind” (the Christ Child, Baby Jesus) come true, reading stories out loud, and baking biscuits, “Kipferl” (crescent-shaped biscuits) and “Busserl” (small Xmas pastries). The festive season is such a wonderful time!

It could also happen that during Advent, certain folkloristic figures knock on your front door as they roam around the countryside. St. Nicholas, the historically sociable and very friendly figure, and Krampus, his sinister companion, ask which children have been good during the year. Traditionally, well-behaved children are rewarded with sweets, peanuts and tangerines, and in some cases you’ll hear a word of warning given to the naughty ones.

In the Silent Night villages in Upper Austria, Tirol and Salzburger Land, this tradition is celebrated on 6 December. Kids eagerly await the much-feared Krampus Day which falls one day before. Scary figures dressed up in sheepskin and wearing carved masks with goat horns get up to mischief on the village streets.

From long ago: Customs and tradition

Traditions on the countryside:

  • On 4 December (Saint Barbara’s Feast Day) cherry branches are plucked and laid in water. If the blossoms open up before 24 December, luck and fertility are said to be on the way.
  • Crib exhibitions held in the Salzburger Heimatwerk, a trading operation and cultural institution, or the Salzburg Christmas market are certainly on the list when going crib viewing from crib to crib (“Kripperlroas”) through SalzburgerLand.
  • A bit of nature is brought into the home during the festive season when Christmas trees are put up and decorated with beautiful baubles, candles and sweets.
  • Legend has it that during the 12 wintery December nights after Christmas (Twelfth Night), Frau Bertha, a form of Alpine goddess and protector of women, wanders around.
  • Many families in Austria leave their decorated Christmas tree standing up in the sitting room until Candlemas Day on 2 February.

From crib to crib (“Kripperlroas”) in Salzkammergut

Every year from 24 December to 2 February (Candlemas Day) many farmers and nativity scene carvers open their doors to the public presenting their artistically-made family cribs. Tradition has it to lovingly make and continuously build “community cribs.”

The biblical history of the birth of Christ is embedded in regional scenes. The origins of the tradition of making handmade cribs and their “private” exhibitions in Salzkammergut actually lies in an ordinance made by Joseph II. In 1782 the Emperor issued a court decree to all churches forbidding them to set up cribs, some of which were very ornate. This encouraged skilled craftsmen to build their own cribs and figures and display them at home instead. Later it then led to the making of elaborate “landscape cribs.”

The “Perchten” from Gastein in SalzburgerLand

  • Folklore in Lower Austria / Perchten © Österreich Werbung / Gregor Semrad Folklore in Lower Austria / Perchten © Österreich Werbung / Gregor Semrad

“Perchten“ runs in the Alps

“Perchten“ runs in the Alps The beginning of every new year brings in the spectacular performances of the Perchten in Tirol and SalzburgLand. Perchten are traditional Alpine figures connected to the mythical goddess named Bertha. Often scary and always very loud, with bells and rattles tied around their necks, beautiful and ugly Perchten chase out the evil winter spirits as they wander through the villages. The dressed up boys wear carved wooden masks and wild garments made out of shaggy pelts. Beautiful Perchten known as “Tresterer,” stomp their feet and sing for fertility in the municipality of Stuhlfelden in the Pinzgau area of Salzburg. And many villages in Tirol hold elaborate Perchten runs, some of which also have spectacular fire shows like in areas of the Tirolean lowlands.
Salzburg Christmas Market © Österreich Werbung / Bryan Reinhart Salzburg Christmas Market © Österreich Werbung / Bryan Reinhart

Advent markets in Silent Night localities

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