American Thanksgiving may be two weeks away, but the holiday season officially began on St. Martin’s Day, November 11th. You may have noticed street decorations out way before what you would expect them to be set up in the United States. The Viennese Christmas Markets begin opening this weekend. Here is a guide for all your holiday merrymaking.
There are about 15 markets this year scattered throughout Vienna. Some are classic, like the one at the Rathaus or Karlsplatz. Others are known as “green” markets and are found in parks. A complete listing of the Vienna markets can be found here. In addition, several Austrian states hold their own in their capital city. These include Salzburg (at Schloss Hellbrunn and Cathedral Square below HohenSalzburg), Linz, Graz, Innsbruck and Tirol. There are many others, but these are the big ones.
Then, there are the “weekend only” markets. Schloss Grafenegg’s Advent Market runs from December 5th through December 8th this year. It is unique in that the market is held both outside of and inside the castle. The Rattenberger Market is a a medieval market taking place on weekends only beginning November 28th.
Finally, if you are in the final stretch of your time in Austria and have visited these already, you can take in the markets in Prague, Bratislava, Budapest , Munich and greater Bavaria, or the ones in northern Italy near Tirol.
All the markets offer their own unique theme as well as unique items, but at all of them you will likely find ornament stands, glühwein (each market has a souvenir mug – you pay a deposit on the mug and you either get it back if you return it or you keep the mug), sausages, soup in a bread bowl, and sweets.
Bring cash, maybe some patience, and beware of pickpockets or women offering you a rose and then claiming its yours so that you have to pay her. It’s their most profitable time of year too.
Nikolo and Krampus
Nikolo makes an appearance on the night of December 5th in Vienna. Typically, children leave their shoes out for Nikolo to leave candy coins or small gifts in them and awake to these surprises on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day. Schools usually stage a “Nikolo has been here” event and may even rent a Nikolo for their students. This may be the only opportunity for Austrian children to get pictures with Nikolo. There are no Nikolo picture stations at the local malls although Nikolo may make an appearance at the malls on December 6th if the mall is hosting an event for St. Nicholas Day.
Austrian children also have the anti-St. Nick, the Krampus. As seen in this video, this is a pretty scary concept for young children who fear being taken from their homes by the Krampus if they do not behave.
Every year, St. Nick and the Krampus (many of them actually) make an appearance at Obikirchergasse in the 19th District on December 6th as well as other districts and Christmas markets in Vienna and elsewhere in Austria. The shopping street is blocked off in what is called Perchtenlauf. Perchten means “mask” so Perchtenlauf is a parade of masks. Perchtenlauf participants run around frightening children. It’s like Halloween. Older children may enjoy this while younger children may not.
Obikirchergasse has yet to announce whether they will be participating this year. But, if you would like to witness Perchtenlauf, the Prater will be hosting Perchtenlauf on November 30th from 17:00 – 18:30.
The Big Day (December 24th)
Austrian Christmas celebrations take place on December 24th. For many, the Christmas tree does not go up until December 24th. Typically, in families with young children, grandparents or relatives take the children for the day while their parents decorate the tree and children arrive home for Christmas Eve dinner to a decorated tree and gifts around the tree. Some parents buy a tree before the 24th and keep it in a locked room away from prying eyes.
The ChristKind (Christ child) brings gifts to children unlike the more secular Santa Claus in the US. The ChristKind is also the figure present at the Christmas Markets. Families open gifts on the 24th and typically attend Mass on Christmas eve or Christmas day.
Sylvester (New Year’s Eve)
New Year’s Eve is an all day affair with events around the ring. When the clock strikes midnight, the fireworks ensue lasting into the wee hours of the morning. For some of us lucky folks with housing high above the city, it is a spectacular sight to see all the different areas of Vienna light up. If you have pets, be forewarned.
Three Kings Day/Epiphany (January 6th)
The season draws to a close on January 6th. On this day, you will find children dressed up like the Three Kings walking around the city and knocking on doors collecting money for different charities. In exchange for your donation, they write in chalk above the door C.M.B 2015 (or whatever year it is). This stands for Casper, Melchior and Balthazar (the Three Kings) or as this writer describes “”Christus Mansionem Benedictat” (Christ bless this home). I can only liken this to Trick or Treating for UNICEF only with a blessing in exchange for the donation.
Have a wonderful Holiday season!