English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I know this is horribly overdue as an entry about Christmas and New Year, but there are so many lovely photos to share, that talk about Christmas I must.

Christmas in Vienna and the run up to it is truly magical. The centre of the city is tastefully decorated in the most splendid of twinkly lights and people bundle up, ready to spend most of their time outdoors despite the winter temperatures. Vienna is a very outdoor-sy city and the winter is no exception. You can’t move for Christmas markets that cater to your every Christmas gift need, and stands selling roasted chestnuts and hot cups of punch spring up on every pavement, there to provide residents and visitors with warm food and warm alcohol. What I love is that, although the place is overrun with tourists, the markets are enjoyed by everyone who lives here. It is not uncommon for friends to meet each other after work at a market to enjoy a Gluehwein and families meet up at weekends to wander round and look at the stalls, enjoy the brass bands and generally soak up the jovial atmosphere.

The twinkly chandeliers in the mains street called Graben, note the punsch stands

The twinkly chandeliers in the main street called Graben, note the punsch stands

Belvedere Christmas market

Belvedere Christmas market

Can you see the brass band?

Can you see the brass band?

Little greenhouses appear at the Museums Quarter, so you can get inside and have a drink

Little greenhouses appear at the Museums Quarter, so you can get inside and have a drink

The lighting of the Christmas tree at the Rathaus

The lighting of the Christmas tree at the Rathaus

Most markets close on 23rd December and the biggest one, at the Rathaus, closes on Christmas Eve. There is one, however, that opens on Christmas Day itself and for the past two years I have gone on Christmas morning, pre-Christmas lunch to the Schoenbrunn for a final mooch around. I’m not the only one; it is always busy with shoppers, tourists and Gluehwein guzzlers and is one of the nicest ways I can think of to spend a couple of hours on Christmas Day.

Christmas Day at Schoenbrunn Palace

Christmas Day at Schoenbrunn Palace

Although the Christmas markets disappear quite abruptly, their void is filled soon after by the New Year stalls that help revellers see in the New Year. They mostly sell, food, alcohol, cold alcohol, hot alcohol and more food, but there is a great number dedicated to the selling of lucky charms. You can buy fluffy pigs, pig ornaments, pig stickers, tiny pig figures, pigs of every description, some of them even dressed as chimney sweeps or holding four-leaf clovers. I asked my students about the relevance of the pigs and they apparently signify prosperity because, in the olden days, if you had a pig at the start of the year, it was a sure sign that your household would not go hungry.

I went to the city centre on Silvester, which is New Year’s Eve. I went in the afternoon and the place was heaving with people already in the party spirit. The atmosphere was much more boisterous than it ever was over Christmas, with people chugging down a few Jaegermeisters with every Gluehwein. It seemed like the whole city was on a mission to get drunk. I left before darkness fell, mostly because I had been warned by people who have been here a long time that the crowds in the city get unbearable in the night time and it becomes every claustrophobic’s nightmare. Apparently the general din is so loud that you can’t even hear the bells of St. Stephan’s Cathedral chime in the New Year, even though the party takes place literally outside it. The whole city also becomes obsessed with fireworks and from about 8pm onwards anyone can look out of their apartment window and see a fireworks display from a number of locations; it naturally reaches its crescendo at midnight and the sky glows pink and yellow and the sounds of explosions can be deafening.

A sunny New Year's Eve afternoon

A sunny New Year’s Eve afternoon

Turbo Gluehwein

Turbo Gluehwein

Pigs and chimney sweeps galore

Pigs and chimney sweeps galore

On New Year’s Day debris littered the whole city. We went for a bracing walk up to Kahlenberg, one of the hills in the woods that overlooks the city, and it was apparent that it had been one of the places to be the night before. It also seemed, from the number of empty bottles, that everyone had been on the sparking wine. The fog hung low and freezing and the city was eerily quiet because everyone must have been in bed sleeping off the excesses of the night before, but Vienna being Vienna, we still found a place to have an outdoor drink on such a biting winter’s day. We found a tiny open-air Heurige (wine tavern) open for business. The tall round table at which we stood had a layer of frost on it, but they were serving hot booze and sausages and had a fire lit to keep us toasty. Every passer by who stopped for a New Year’s drink was given a lucky charm, a little pig, to see in the New Year and I thought how glad I was to be in Vienna for the start of 2013.

The staff braving the cold

The staff braving the cold at the Heurige we found

Good luck charms with every drink

Good luck charms with every drink

Frosty vineyards for a New Year's drink

Frosty vineyards for a New Year’s drink – perfect with the fire

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