From my one Christmas spent in Austria, my impression is that they take it a lot more seriously than we do in Oz. To be fair, I suppose if you have kids it’s a different story, but even without young kids they seem to take it seriously here.
December 6 is Saint Nicholas Day. The night before you will often see the Krampus out and about. Krampus is a beast-like demonic creature who is said to punish small children if they have misbehaved during the year. In my town, this meant a parade of creepy looking creatures going down the street blowing fire and scaring small children. And yes, they were scared. I found it quite hilarious, but to be honest I didn’t want them going too close to me either! Everyone rugs up, drinks Glüwein and has a great time.
That night kids will hang a stocking outside and on Saint Nikolaus Day, if they’ve been good, Saint Nikolaus will have scared away the Krampus and filled it with goodies. There was also something weird going on that morning where small children could go around hitting adults with a bunch of small sticks before 9am. Strange, yes, but I’m sure it has meaning.
On each of the four Sunday’s before Christmas a new candle is lit on a special wreath. It feels like something I would have left behind years ago but Thomas and dutifully I lit the candle each Sunday. There is no Santa Claus here, no reindeers or sleigh or anything crazy like that… there is the Kriskind. Though from what I can work out he(?) essentially does the same thing. And the Christmas tree is always real (no plastic fakes here) but only gets put up on Christmas Eve.
You also get to open your Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. So on this day we went over to Thomas’ parents’ house in the afternoon. This is just a time for family to be together. The presents usually come later but for us it was before dinner. Then we enjoyed a Christmas dinner of Raclette (you can read about Raclette in an upcoming post). Although this is not technically an Austrian tradition it is quite common at Christmas.
Following this we ate Christmas cookies, but there was no dessert to speak of (not that I needed it, but it seems natural to want to stuff pudding or trifle in after a full day of eating), and then we drank the night away festively.
But the fact that everything happens on Christmas Eve meant that Christmas Day was a bit of a let-down. Of course, we did go to Thomas’ Grandmother’s place and have fresh home-made schnitzel which was awesome, but it still felt weird to not open presents on Christmas Day.