English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

Archive for the category “Christmas in Vienna”

We Three Kings

Today, on the 7th January, most Viennese went back to work and all the kids went back to school. Why so late, why not on the 6th, like in the UK? The answer is because the 6th of January, which we know as Epiphany, is Three Kings’ Day here and it is a religious public holiday.

The three kings can actually be seen walking around the city, taking the form of children dressed up as Casper, Melchior and Balthasar bestowing good luck on houses whose occupants open their front doors when they hear the singing three kings. The kings bless the house and in chalk write 20+C+M+B+14 over the door frame (the year 2014, with the initials of the kings in between). This is just one of the differences hiding amidst the many similarities we share in the ways we celebrate at Christmas time.

Let’s start with the Christmas tree, which I prefer to put up as early in December as I can. The earliest I have managed to buy a tree here is 9th December and I put it up straight away to enjoy it for as long as possible. This, according to the locals is far too early and unusual behaviour. Trees, if they are bought a couple of weeks before Christmas, are often stored out in the cold on balconies, still all wrapped up, ready for the big reveal on the 24th.

Christmas Eve, which for me from my cultural background is treated as the long day of anticipation before the big day, is the day on which Christmas is celebrated in Austria. Although shops are open in the morning, most places close around 2pm. The day time is a busy and buzzing time with lots of people out and about working, buying last minute things, or grabbing a lunch time drink with friends. Then, in the afternoon, those with children go on a small outing; the purpose of which is solely to get the children out of the house so that the parent who remains can put up and decorate the Christmas tree in record time as well as laying out all the presents. The children are brought home a few hours later by the other parent, or the helpful grandparents, and the kids return home to a wondrously festive front room and dive into their presents, which were brought not by Santa, but by the Christkind (meaning ‘Christ Child’ in English). The image of the Christkind is that of a teenage child, usually a girl with long blond hair, radiating goodness and looking suitably angelic in a flowing white gown; not your average fat Santa that’s for sure!

17 year old Valerie beat the competition to be 2013's Christkind

17 year old Valerie beat the competition to be 2013’s Christkind

Questions surrounding the Christkind usually occur around the same time that children who are used to another more fatherly-looking type of present deliverer start to come up. Kids start to notice that they never get to see the Christkind and realise the strange coincidence that Mum or Dad is never with them when they go out and the Christkind comes to their house.

The image of Santa, or Father Christmas is present but he is called the Wiehnachtsmann (Christmas Man), and is used in many advertising campaigns and is more linked to German traditions. The familiar image of Saint Nic goes by another name, that of Nikolo or Nikolaus, and he comes to visit children much earlier, on 6th December. The familiar concept of naughty and nice children deserving or being undeserving of presents applies to this date. Naughty children can expect to be visited by Krampus, which is a scary looking devil type creature who comes with long branches ready to hit the naughty children with. Such unlucky children can only hope to be given a lump of coal. However, on the next day, good children are rewarded by Nikolo who treats them to nuts, tangerines and chocolates. There were lots of such treats going around the school I teach in on this day and it reminded me of how as a child as well as my small Christmas gifts, I would always be given a couple of tangerines in my stocking.

Motivation to give up your naughty ways

Motivation to give up your naughty ways – meet Krampus

Amidst the differences, it was nice to discover that everybody loves a good Christmas song, and as my classes sang along to Last Christmas it showed that, whatever the traditions, everyone loves singing along to Wham.

http://www.heute.at/news/oesterreich/wien/art23652,955857

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2013/dec/17/krampus-evil-santa-germany-pagan-demon

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One Glühwein, Two Glühwein, Three Glühwein, Lama!

It’s my favourite time of year in Vienna. It is Christmas market time. It is actually the reason I moved to Vienna. I came here on holiday once at the beginning of December and instantly fell in love with the twinkly splendour of the city.  A handful of markets opened last weekend and the remainder open this weekend and so, seeing as they are the reason that this English girl is in Vienna, I thought a write up was in order.

The locals I have spoken to all say that they totally avoid the market at the Rathaus, which is the biggest one and pulls the most tourists in, so it can get really busy, uncomfortably so at times. It is however, a very grand and lovely one with the biggest Christmas tree lit up amidst the back drop of the grandly gothic town hall building. The Viennese complain that it is too commercial and sells rubbish, but if you want some lovely Christmas tree decorations, toys and sweets, sweets and more sweets then it is more than worth a visit. Be warned, it also has the most expensive Gluehwein. Coming in at four Euros a cup, it is a whole Euro more than at other markets. Last year the prices pretty much seemed to be uniform, but this year there is a noticeable difference in cost, although it has to be said, it definitely tastes good.

Rathaus on a moody grey afternoon

Rathaus on a moody grey afternoon

Gingerbread heart heaven

Gingerbread heart heaven

Next we have the Spittelberg market which lines the small and charming lanes around Stiftgasse. It is small, but perfectly formed and has a very unique feel to it.  Most people agree it is best for buying jewellery, so it is a good place to buy a few presents. It also has great spaces under trees lit with fairy lights in which to enjoy a Gluehwein or Punsch. If you get too cold, there are also lots of bars and restaurants to shelter in and it has many covered areas in which to stand and have a drink in. It is very atmospheric, especially in the evenings.

A fine piece of Spittelberg jewellery

A fine piece of Spittelberg jewellery

Yesterday I was at the Karlsplatz Christmas market, right in front of Karlskirche church and it was there I discovered it is the best place for lamas. No, I hadn’t had too much mulled wine, there were actually lamas being led around. They were part of the ‘attractions’ for kids, because this market is probably the best one for families. It has an area dedicated for kids, with animals, straw for them to play in and a little workshop for them to do crafts. Food and drink stalls circle this area and so parents can amuse themselves while keeping an eye on the kids. This market is also popular with locals who appreciate the crafts, ceramics and glassware on sale. Lovely atmosphere, lovely Gluehwein and lovely lamas. Oh and if you ever wanted to see a photo of the baby Jesus, this is the place to go.

The market at Karlskirche

The market at Karlskirche

Here's a close up of that little baby Jesus

Here’s a close up of that little baby Jesus

That lama just winked at me I swear

That lama just winked at me I swear

The market I will end on is my favourite one of all. The Freyung market claims to be the oldest and for me it is definitely the most Christmassy. Freyung is a gorgeous little square which is beautiful at any time of year, but is especially magical at Christmas. It’s great for Christmas decorations and gourmet food products like mustards and honey. Even the Viennese give the Freyung market their seal of approval.

The old Viennese Christmas Market

The old Viennese Christmas Market

There are many more markets around the city, which I will try and review within the next few weeks. Until then enjoy the hot booze, the hot chestnuts and the lovely lamas.

Christmas jingle and sparkle

Christmas jingle and sparkle

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