“What? You have plastic tree’s!?”
“What? You have lights instead of candles!?”
“What? You spend Christmas at the beach”
“What on earth is Santa?”
This list goes on and on. The difference between a typical Australian Christmas and Austrian Christmas is crazy despite how similar their names are. Whilst one is spent in winter wonderland, the other is spent on bikini clad beaches.
The weather however is probably one of the least different things when comparing the celebration in the two countries. The traditions and food were incomparable – both special and unique in their own way. My first Austrian Christmas was like I was 5 all over again, getting all excited about Santa coming that night!
Leading up to Christmas in Australia the most traditional thing is to open up a little door on a cardboard box and finding a little Christmas chocolate. The advent calendar is taken to a whole new extreme in Austria. Instead of a little chocolate in the advent calendar, there is normally a cute little present for yourself each day. The calendars are much larger and homemade. Another very common tradition is for two friends to make one and then swap, giving each other a pressie each day of the advent.
The advent is not only celebrated by a calendar though, nearly every village has Christmas markets leading up to the big day. Each of the markets are unique and offer a complete different experience. The ambiance of every market is the same though; magical! It is an experience that is not definitely not found Australia. Walking down the candle lit streets, all rugged up to keep out frosty air, carols being sung on every corner – makes it really feel like Christmas. The stalls are decorated with all sorts of Christmas decorations, usually handmade and beautiful as well as being accompanied by a layer of snow on top.
Christmas already comes to the children on the 6th of December when Saint Nicholas comes bearing presents. The presents are usually mandarins and peanuts; something I didn’t think many children would really fancy but they still seem to enjoy it. Saint Nicholas is not accompanied by reindeer though, instead the mean Krampus (pronouced gr-ow-mm-pus). The Krampus is a beast like creature that is thought to punish the bad children. If good the child will receive some lovely mandarins and peanuts from Saint Nicholas, although if bad the Krampus will frighten the child by putting him/her in his sack. Most parents order a Saint Nicholas and Krampus to come to their house and visit the children. The night of the 6th, you will find many people dressed up as Saint Nicholas and the Krumpas wondering from house to house in each of the villages.
Saint Nicholas is not dressed in red and white with a stomach like a bowl full of jelly, although very traditional and religious, resembling more the look of the Pope. Saint Nicholas has been the foundation for our beloved Santa, along with some help from the Coca Cola.
Unfortunately for the children of Europe, they don’t leave out cookies and milk on the 24th and find them replaced with a big sack of presents on the 25th. Turns out Santa is not as busy as he led us all to believe – he doesn’t fly on his sleigh to Europe. Instead another special someone comes to visit on the 24th; the Christkindl. The Christkindl directly translated means the Christ child; a spirit like child usually depicted with blonde hair and angelic wings. As twilight comes the family will sit near the door of a closed off room – the one they left for the Christkindl do its magic. They will then sing many sweet Christmas carols until interrupted by the sound of the bell. By this signal, the family is invited into the room by the Christkindl – where they will find presents and a decorated Christmas tree left for them from the Christkindl. If you dare to enter the room before the bell though you will find yourself with no presents and no tree, so as you can imagine the children wouldn’t dare.
The first sight of the tree after the bell is beautiful. The room is lit by the real candles and sparklers (it’s a wonder the thing did’t burn down) on the real Christmas tree. The sight for me was like the first time I saw the stocking full of presents left for me by Santa; truly magical.
A Christmas with a new tradition is a magical and special event. Of course though Santa still visited me, but he left my presents in Australia (Silly Santa, I may need to give him better directions next time). With the wonders of Skype I was still able to open my Santa presents on Christmas morning with my family. A online Australian Christmas in the Austrian Alps – you can’t get much better than that.