Now that I have been living in Graz for the best part of 6 years, I have gotten a lot of inside information about what the real Austrian Christmas traditions are.
Christmas is a time where the traditional side of Austrians really comes through. If you do something untypical, say putting up the Christmas tree at the end of November, you will be given many looks of disdain. And people will think you are crazy.
So if you really want to feel like an Austrian over the Christmas period and learn how to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year the Austrian way, here is a list of Austrian Christmas traditions I have learned throughout my time in Graz:
Gifting a handmade advent calendar
Yes, there are plenty of beautiful advent calendars out there in the supermarkets. No, it’s not the same thing if it’s bought or made by you. Especially if you have a partner from Austria, gifting them a handmade advent calendar is an imperative Austrian Christmas Tradition. It’s not worth anything if you did not put in blood, sweat and tears to make it for your loved one.
Having an Adventkranz
You can find them everywhere to buy or you can make it yourself, but every household has to have a wreath with 4 candles around Christmas in Austria. On every Advent Sunday you light up one of the candle. The last one will be lit on Christmas day.
Baking Christmas cookies
It’s not Christmas in Austria if you don’t spend a whole afternoon baking with your family or friends at least 5 different types of cookies. Part of the Christmas tradition is also eating about half of the cookies in the process. General favourites are Vanillekipferl, Linzer Augen, Rumkugel and Zimtsterne.
Getting drunk at the Christmas Markets
This can be seen as a rite of passage here in Graz. The days get shorter and the Christmas lights are so inviting, so nothing really stops you from visiting the Christmas Markets every day. But it can get quite cold, so there is nothing better than warming yourself up with a Glühwein or two, or three, or four… you know where I am going with this. Especially if you go visit with your most alcohol-friendly colleagues, you are in for a treat! Be careful if they order a Glühwein with Beifahrer, though. It can escalate pretty easily.
Getting whipped by a man in a mask
It sounds naughtier than it actually is. One of the craziest Austrian Christmas traditions is that of Saint Nicholas and Krampus. Go visit the Krampuslauf (in Graz it’s on the 2nd December 2018) and look at those magnificent beasts up close. But if you were bad, you should be careful of the whipping twigs!
Going to tons of Christmas parties
By the end of December you should have been to the following parties:
- company Christmas party;
- team’s Christmas party;
- department’s Christmas party;
- favourite colleagues’ company-independent Christmas party;
- university colleagues’ Christmas party;
- WG‘s Christmas party;
- theatre/singing/dance/D&D club Christmas party;
- sports group’s Christmas party;
- close friends group’s Christmas party;
- friend’s weird friend’s Christmas party;
- family’s Christmas party;
- partner’s family’s Christmas party;
- private Christmas party with your pet and partner.
Celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve
This is really confusing for me. In Italy we also start celebrating with the family in the evening of the 24th, but then open presents at midnight or in the morning of the 25th – on actualy Christmas day. In Austria, though, the celebration starts at 4 p.m. with dinner. At 7 p.m. the Christmas tree is lit up for the first time. The family gathers around it to sing Christmas carols. This also brings me to my next point…
Putting up the Christmas tree on the 24th
I was very surprised when I heard that the Austrian Christmas tradition is to put up the tree at home on the 24th. But it does make sense when you think that:
The Christmas tree has to be exclusively real
You will hardly find a household with a plastic Christmas tree. The real pine tree gives the room a lovely perfume, but it cannot be kept for too long. It starts losing its needles very soon.
Here’s where you can buy one in Graz.
Growing up believing presents are brought by baby Jesus
This is the Austrian Christmas tradition that puzzles me the most. How can baby Jesus, who can not even lift up his head, be able to carry presents to every house in Austria? Also, tradition says that baby Jesus is born on the 25th. But Austrians open presents on the 24th. Is he so magical that presents arrive before he is even born?
Writing letters to said baby Jesus
Again, if he is born on the 25th, how is it possible that baby Jesus reads your letters and knows what you want for Christmas? But I guess it’s a nice story to tell your kids. Heck, we do the same for Santa, why shouldn’t Austrians do it for baby Jesus!
Here is the address to which you should mail those letters:
Vandalising your own door on 6th January
The 6th of January is the traditionally the day where the three wise men visit newborn baby Jesus. On this day, many Austrians will put a special sign in chalk over their front door. This stands for “Christus mansionem benedicat”, which means “May Christ bless the house”, in combination with the number of the year. For 2018 it would be: 20*C*M*B*18.