The Christmas season begins in Austria on a Sunday four weeks before Christmas Eve when decorated wreaths with four candles are placed in peoples’ homes. Each Sunday leading up to Christmas Eve a candle is lit.
Many towns and villages have advent celebrations during this time and in the historical setting of Austrias’ smallest town, Rattenberg, there is a magical pre-Christmas atmosphere with twinkling lights, traditional music and mouthwatering goodies on sale.
The 5th December is Krampstag – the day the devils walk through the villages. They dress in animal furs and elaborate masks with horns and carry branches which they use to punish those who are ‘bad’! I have been in Austria about 8 years now and they still scare me! On 6th December, St Nicholas, sometimes accompanied by a devil or krampus comes around and gives sweets and apples to the good children.
Christmas markets in Austria spring up in many towns and cities. In Innsbruck, which is very easy to get to from Alpbach, their market set by the river and near the Golden roof is my personal favourite. Sipping a warming gluhwein amongst the twinkling lights whilst listening to the carols definitely makes you feel like Christmas is coming!
In the week leading up to Christmas Eve, a group of carol singers tour the houses of Alpbach. They often enter through an unlocked door and sing carols before acting out the Christmas story. My first year here I was astonished when about a group of eight walked into my house unannounced. Normally you would thank them with a shot of schnapps, however I had none so they ended up having a glass of malt whiskey which seemed to go down well. I can only imagine what state they are in by the end of the evening.
On Christmas Eve all the shops shut early in preparation for family gatherings and celebrations in their decorated homes with beautifully carved nativity scenes. After a dinner, which was traditionally Gebackener Karpfen ( carp ) perhaps followed by sachertorte or Christmas biscuits, the tree is lit. In the past this was with real candles but nowadays many times they are electric. I do remember though, not that many years ago, staying in a hotel in Alpbach and after dinner everyone congregated in the lounge where the staff lit all the candles on the tree and everyone sang Silent Night. The carol Silent Night was originally sung on the 24th December 1818 in Oberndorf to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument when the church organ was not working. Afterwards the presents under the tree are opened. Children in Austria believe these presents have been bought by Kristkindl (Christ child). After the children have opened their presents, residents and holidaymakers alike gather in the centre of the village to listen to the traditional music played by the ‘Alpbacher Blaser’ from the Jakober balcony and this is followed by Christmas Mass in St Oswalds church.
On the 25th December many hotels offer Christmas celebratory menus and there is a carol service in the village church. The whole village is very festive with the streets lit by candlight and musicians wander around the local bars playing traditional music.
For a relaxing traditional and in many ways old fashioned Christmas, Alpbach in Austria is definitely the place to be and I, like many other regular visitors, cannot wait for next year.
Blog by Jane, Inghams Resort Representative in Alpbach.