Austrian Christmas Customs

Each country has its own unique customs and traditions observed during the Christmas season. Austria shares some similar customs with its neighbor Germany but most have Catholic roots.  Christmas is the most important religious and public holiday in Austria and a festive season as well lasting until the New Year.

NikolausA traditional Christmas story in Austria is that every 4th of December, it is believed that Saint Nicholas visits children together with the devil. The two then asks the kids if they had been good or bad and if a child admits to having misbehaved, the devil (Knect Ruprecht) will try to strike him or her with a stick. At this instance, Saint Nicholas sends the kids running before they can be harmed by the devil. Then on December 6th which is St. Nicholas’ Day, good children are rewarded with mittens, candies, fruits and other useful items.

The night before Christmas is a special time for families to get together around their Christmas tree. The so-called Christbaum is normally decorated earlier by parents. Other than the decors hanging on the tree, a nativity scene is also displayed some even featuring some 100 pieces of figurines.

Christmas Eve also means the Christkindle bringing gifts to children and putting them beneath the tree. In some areas of Austria, it is thought that Saint Nicholas takes charge in bringing gifts to young boys while Saint Lucia brings gifts for the girls. For food, a staple in most Austrian homes is baked carp.

Most churches in Austria regardless of religious affiliation also hold midnight masses on Christmas Eve.  In fact in the olden days, peasants would really come down from their homes in the mountains bringing a torch in a manner similar to a procession just to attend the midnight mass.

Another common tradition during Christmas is the showing of the Christ child to people in the community. A small statue of the Christ child placed in a manger is usually brought from one house to another by people while at the same time singing some Christmas carols.