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    Christmas in Austria

    The Advent period in Austria is also known as “the most peaceful time of the year.“ It is a time of old customs: Baking biscuits, putting up Christmas decorations, singing Christmas carols and many other much-loved traditions are shared by families in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

    • Advent means "arrival" in translation, referring to the birth of Christ. This special time has created many customs in Austria - some also from the non-Christian world. Typical things to do in the festive season include baking Christmas biscuits, putting up Advent calendars, reflecting and/or making music with the family, meeting friends at the Christmas market, crafting Christmas decorations or tying Advent wreaths.

    • The Advent season of the Latin Church lasts 22 to 28 days and always includes four Sundays.

      The Advent wreath first appeared in Germany in 1839 and, over time, also became a popular symbol of the Christmas season in Austria. The wreath with its four candles has always had the function of a calendar. Every Sunday in Advent, a new candle is lit to mark the remaining time until Christmas Eve.

    • Since the 19th century, the Advent calendar has fulfilled an important role in Christian customs. Like the Advent wreath, it counts down the time to Christmas. On 1 December, the first "door" is opened. The first Advent calendar is said to date back to 1851, the first printed one to 1902. Today, self-made models are very popular - and there are almost no limits of imagination in designing them.

    How Christmas is celebrated in Austria

    Santa Claus and Krampus at the Salzburg Christmas Market

    5 and 6 December

    Saint Nicholas and Krampus

    During the Advent time, folkloristic figures may suddenly knock on your front door. Friendly St. Nicholas and his sinister companion Krampus will come to your home to find out which children have been good this year. Traditionally, those well-behaved are rewarded with sweets, peanuts and tangerines, and you might hear a word of warning given to the naughty ones. All over Austria, St. Nicholas day is celebrated on 6 December.

    Kids eagerly await the much-feared Krampus Day (5 December, one day before St. Nicholas) when people dress up in scary costumes made of sheepskin, wear carved masks with goat horns and get up to mischief in the village streets. One of the most traditional forms of the Krampuslauf (Krampus Run) can be found in the Gastein Valley. Each of the Krampuses of the roughly 100 Krampus Groups, also called Passen, wears a traditional stone pine mask.

    Christmas market, Graz / Graz

    The "Christkind" brings the presents

    Some things about Christmas are the same everywhere: Enjoying the first snow, experiencing nature on winter walks, or writing a Christmas wishlist.

    But some things are different in Austria: For instance, did you know that here, it’s not Father Christmas or Santa Claus who brings the presents – it’s the “Christkind” (the Christ Child, Baby Jesus). It comes in the form of an angel, with white feathery wings, a halo above its head, and blond curls.

    The presents are not opened on 25 December, but rather on Christmas Eve.

    And how do you make sure the Christkind gets it right? In some regions in Austria, children toss their Christmas letter into the fireplace to make their Christmas wishes come true. In others, they put their letters on the window sill, so that the Christkind can collect them.

    Christmas Eve

    The Christmas tree plays a very important role in Austria, and every town sets up its very own. A traditional tree is decorated with ornaments in gold and silver, stars made out of straw, sweets, and candy wrapped in tinfoil, gilded nuts, and decorated ginger bread cookies.

    On Christmas Eve, shops close at around 4 p.m. and there are no movie or theatre performances or concerts. Most bars, restaurants, and night clubs are closed and traffic is almost non-existent. There are, however, some coffeehouses, bars, and restaurants that remain open, especially in Vienna.

    Around 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, the tree is lit for the first time and the whole family gathers to sing Christmas carols. “Silent Night”, written and performed for the first time on 24 December 1818 by Josef Mohr and Franz Gruber in the Austrian village of Oberndorf, is still the most popular one.

    And of course, the "Christkind" has already secretly visited, seen by noone, and put the presents under the Christmas tree.

    Learn more about Silent Night
    Leutbühel Christmas tree in Bregenz
    Lamberg'sche Nativity Scene in the Citys museum in Steyr

    Nativity Scenes

    Every year from 24 December to 2 February (Candlemas Day), farmers and nativity scene carvers in SalzburgerLand open their doors to the public, presenting their artistically-made family cribs. It is also tradition to lovingly make and continuously build “community nativity scenes”.

    In these local nativity scenes, the biblical story of the birth of Christ is embedded in regional surroundings. The tradition of handmade cribs and their private exhibition in the Salzkammergut region originated with a 1782 ordinance by Emperor Joseph II banning churches from setting up their – often very ornate – nativity scenes. The new rule encouraged skilled craftsmen to build their own ones and display them at their homes instead. This, in turn, led to the development of elaborate “landscape nativity scenes” – very large and intricate scenes.


    Our favourite Christmas songs from Austria

    Traditions from Way Back When

    •                         Light of Peace Lantern - Wolfgangsee Lake

      Light of Peace from Bethlehem

      People from all over the country come to train stations and churches to light their candles and spread the flame, which is brought from Bethlehem to Vienna, across the country.
    •                         Christmas Lights in Pfarrgasse in Bad Ischl / Bad Ischl

      Advent Singers

      In Upper Austria, carol singers go from house to house, singing songs and telling stories. The tradition is a reminder of Josef and Maria looking for a place to stay on Christmas Eve.
    •                         Pitztal valley, Museum at Stamserhaus (Tyrol’s oldest farmhouse) - Christmas crib exhibition

      Nativity Scenes in Tirol

      In Tirol, churches, museums and private crib carvers give insight into the tradition of nativity scenes. Carving schools and clubs even offer courses on how to build one yourself.

    A Raucous Christmas: Rauhnacht Traditions

    In Austria, many mystical traditions are still celebrated between Christmas and New Year.

    Perchten Parade in Salzburg

    “Perchten“ Runs in the Alps

    The new year kicks off the spectacular performances of the “Perchten” in Tirol and SalzburgerLand. Perchten are traditional Alpine figures connected to the mythical goddess Perchta. Often scary and always very loud, with bells and rattles tied around their necks, the so-called “beautiful Perchten” (representing good spirits) and the “ugly Perchten” (representing evil spirits) wander through the villages, chasing away winter spirits.

    The dress-up consists of carved wooden masks and 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 feature spectacular fire shows.

    Learn more about the Perchten and Krampus in Salzburg and Tirol.

    Snow-covered village Lech Zürs am Arlberg / Lech at Arlberg

    Twelve Days of Christmas

    Spooky Start to the New Year

    The Twelve Days of Christmas are known as the “Rauhnächte in Austria,” a time of mystical traditions. These are the nights between Christmas and January 6, although the exact number of days varies from region to region. In some areas, “Losen” already starts on the longest night of the year, the Thomasnacht from the 20th to the 21st of December. 

    “Losen” has its roots in the dialect word for “listening.” Tradition says that by listening closely, you can learn about your fate for the coming year. Some people meet at remote crossroads to listen. It is not easy to interpret the various sounds: If you suddenly hear happy singing, a wedding is in the cards. The sound of a saw, on the other hand, is said to predict a death in the near future.

    Fumigate during christmas time

    Smoking out the „Wilde Jagd“ (Wild Hunt)

    Fragrant Winter Tradition

    The name “Rauhnächte” (raucous nights) probably has its origin in the German word for smoke. And indeed, especially in the countryside, one of the most common heathen traditions to date is “Räuchern": During one (or more) nights between Christmas and Epiphany in January, incense is burned in farmhouses and stables.

    The ritual is said to protect the animals from the bad influence of the Rauhnächte. Folklore has it that around midnight, animals can speak and foretell the future. As tempting as it sounds, one should better not try to listen, as that would spell certain doom - at least that's how the story goes. To ward off the worst, aside from burning incense, it is also customary to swallow “Schluckbildchen,” little notes depicting the Virgin Mary.

    Who is afraid of the „Wilde Jagd“? The Rauhnächte have been regarded as an especially dangerous and ominous time. This goes back to old Germanic mythology, saying the “wild hunt” was active during this period of time: A whole host of demons would fly through the night skies and sow disaster wherever they went. In many of Austria's regions, people are still hesitant to hang laundry to dry between Christmas and New Year because the “Wilde Jagd” could get caught up in it.

    Barbara branches

    Twigs and Branches

    More Traditions to do with Nature

    Blossoming Branches

    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.

    Kissing under the Mistletoe

    One of the most beautiful heathen traditions is hanging up a mistletoe branch in a door frame or from the ceiling. The mistletoe was not only a basic ingredient for the magic brew in the Asterix comic strips, but in German mythology, it was also a symbol of luck. Kissing under a mistletoe is said to bring luck for a happy future together.

    Bake Your Own Christmas Biscuits

    •                 Vanillekipferl - Christmas biscuits

      Vanillekipferl Biscuits

      Enjoy Austrian Christmas atmosphere at home with these wonderfully light biscuits.

      How to make them
    •                 Christmas biscuits Linzer Augen

      Linzer Cookies

      Linzer Eyes are probably one of the most famous and traditional Christmas biscuits in Austria.

      How to make them
    •                 Baking tray with "Linzer Augen"

      Butter Biscuits

      Bake up a batch of classic butter biscuits. These scrumptious delights are a real Christmas treat.

      How to make them
    •                 Preparation of „Kokosbusserl“ - Coconut Kisses Biscuits

      "Kokosbusserl" - Coconut Kisses Biscuits

      A light and fluffy treat that's very popular around Christmas.

      Show recipe
    •                 Preparation of Zimtsterne - "Cinnamon stars"


      Zimtsterne - literally "cinnamon stars" - are typical Austrian Christmas biscuits with a glaze of sugar and lemon.

      Read more

    Download Our Colouring Sheets for Christmas

    Arts and Music in Winter

    •                 Thomasnacht

      Winter in Fine Arts: The Colour of Snow

      The depictions of snow and ice in the masterpieces of artists such as Werner Berg, Pieter Bruegel or Egon Schiele are impressive to behold. The colours range from mystical grey and blue hues to turquoise pastels.

      Winter in the Fine Arts
    •                 Johan Strauß Denkmal im winterlichen Wiener Stadtpark.

      Winter Themes in Classical Music: Music for Long Evenings

      Winter found its way into Classical Music when Austrian composers such as Leopold Mozart, Schubert and Strauss chose it as a theme of their compositions.

      Classical Winter Music