While some of my Australian peers may still be on holidays, spending their days lying on their ass, lapping up the sun; the silly season has since ended here in Europe. Unlike our extended end of year uni/school holidays in Australia, the Austrians only have a measly 2 weeks off to prepare, celebrate and recover from all the food, booze and good living that comes with Christmas and the end of year celebrations. But they sure make the most of their time, here are some of the odd traditions I came across this silly season:
One strange tradition I’d never heard of, even during my Christmas here in Austria last year (perhaps because we were in a tiny ski village mainly consisting of tourists) was the Christmas Krampus, a Winter demon that punishes naughty children. Krampus Tag (Krampus Day) was celebrated in Graz on Sunday the 1st of December, a select group of people dress up as Krampus and parade through the city scaring children and may even whip on-lookers with chains and whips made from thick hairs. Unfortunately (or perhaps not so…) I was in France at that time and missed the celebration, but check out this Youtube video of this year’s KrampusLauf (Krampus Run) in Graz (Krampuslauf Graz 2013 ). The Austrian’s do not have a Santa, but they do have the Krampus’ angelic counterpart St Nicholas or the ‘Christ child’ who comforts the children with gifts, biscuits and chocolate covered fruits post-Krampus tormenting. It is also possible to hire a Krampus and St Nicholas, actors who will come to your house, scare your children and then give them a bag of sweets.
My favourite Christmas tradition in Austria is the Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Markets). Sure, back home we have the tacky stalls in the middle of shopping centres with cotton wool ‘snow’ lining the roofs, but that is nothing on the real deal!! The larger cities like Vienna, Salzburg and Graz have various markets spread all over the city all with stalls selling everything from traditional and gourmet culinary delights to handmade Christmas decorations. There is nothing like huddling around one of the many Glüwein (mulled wine) or punsch (warm sweet cocktails of various flavours) stalls with a group of friends warming up on the hot alcohol; or a romantic evening stroll past all stalls selling handmade nick-nacks and Christmas lights twinkling overhead. This is probably the only time of the year I will happily venture outside in the freezing European winter evenings.
ChristkindlMarkt in Vienna
Austrian New Years
New Years Eve in Austria is known as ‘Silvester’
Villages in some regions of Austria start their News Years celebrations on the 28th December with the strangest tradition, of which I am sure evolved from some weirdo’s twisted fetish. On ‘Innocent Children’s Day’, children visit each household to spank the adults… apparently it is good luck?! The tradition is derived from the bible teaching in which King Herod murdered all young boys in his kingdom, when with the birth of Jesus he was told a new king had been born. On this day, children chant “Schapp, schapp, frisch und g’sund, s’ganze Jahr gsund bleibn, nit klunzn nit klagn, bis i wieder kumm schlagn” (Snap, snap, fresh and healthy, stay healthy all year with no complaints till I come knocking again). After a good spanking, the adults repay the children for their services with lollies and money. Although, all spanking must take place before midday, anytime after that and the kids are just being little brats.
Fireworks play a big role in Austrian New Years celebrations, as anywhere else in the world. Nation-wide, locals make most of the Alps and Austria’s hilly landscape by climbing to their closest peaks for a clear view of the fireworks over their city/town without the crowds. Unlike in Australia, the private use of fireworks is perfectly legal and many Austrian’s put on their own fireworks displays while welcoming in the new year. In Graz, students lit fireworks from the rooftop of our student apartment building. In Salzburg, where I spent New Years, blank canons blew all afternoon from the Hohensalzburg fortress that looms high on top of a hill looking over the city.
Bleigießen (lead-pouring) is a traditional New Years Eve practice, a sort of fortune-telling ritual for the coming year. Lead is melted in a spoon over a candle and once it has turned to liquid is thrown into a bowl of cold water. The shape formed by the lead when dropped in the water determines various predictions for the year ahead, with different shapes meaning different things. For example, a ball means luck will roll your way. An anchor shape means help in need and if the lead forms a cross it signifies death. There are also many other shapes that have many other predictions.
An old British sketch ‘Dinner for One’ from the 60s screens on Austrian TV every New Years Eve. The 10 minute black and white film portrays an old woman celebrating the new year as the famous line from the sketch says: “The same procedure as each year, James”. She has outlived her friends and celebrates with a solo dinner, in which her butler plays the role of each of her four friends, having to drink for four people he becomes very drunk by the end of the night. It is old-fashion humour, in which you need to be a drink or two (or more) deep, to really appreciate. The funny thing is, much like Sound of Music which is famous world-wide but not so well-known in Austria, the British film ‘Dinner for One’ is much more popular here in Austria then its country of origin. You can watch the film at this link: Dinner for One