“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.
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 pastries). The festive season is a wonderful time.
During Advent, certain folkloristic figures also 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 on the 6th of December. 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 the 6th of 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.
Traditions from way back when
Salzburg Christmas Market © Österreich Werbung / Bryan Reinhart
Advent: When is the “Christkind” coming?
Everyone is excited, not only children. The first Sunday of Advent rings in the Christmas season and “Christkindlmärkte” (Christmas markets) open their doors. Advent is all about remembering and reflecting, using Alpine celebrations and customs.
Children with peace light © Salzburger Land / Achim Meurer
Light of Peace from Bethlehem
The Light of Peace is brought to Vienna from Bethlehem on the 24th of December. As the idea behind this new tradition originated in Upper Austria, a local child goes and brings it back to Austria from Israel. Once it has arrived, people from all over the country come to train stations and churches in Vienna to light their candles and spread the flame across the country.
Christmas custom in SalzburgerLand © SalzburgerLand Tourismus GmbH / Eva-Maria Repolusk (Eva trifft.)
Advent singers searching for shelter
With the start of Advent in Upper Austria, carol singers start to venture out bringing joy and blessings to the communities. Singing songs and telling stories, they roam the countryside going from house to house. This represents Josef and Maria on their search for a place to stay.
Manger in Achensee/Achenkirch © Stille Nacht – Tirol Werbung GmbH / Krippe Achensee Achenkirch / Michael Grössinger
“Crib viewing” in Tirol
In Tirol, areas like Pitztal, Ausserfern, and villages near Innsbruck and the Alpbachtal Valley are well-known for making nativity cribs. Churches, museums and private crib carvers give insight into the trade and its background history. Carving schools and crib clubs in Tirol even have courses on how to build cribs.
Traditions on the countryside
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 living room until Candlemas Day on 2 February.
Every year from the 24th of December to the 2nd of February (Candlemas Day) many farmers and nativity scene carvers open their doors to the public, presenting their artistically-made family 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 led to the making of elaborate “landscape cribs.”
The “Perchten” from Gastein in SalzburgerLand
- Folklore in Lower Austria / Perchten © Österreich Werbung / Gregor Semrad