A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
I have not been writing in quite a long time as the quite miserable weather takes away even the last bit of my creativity. But now that it is just one more week to go until holidays and for me also going back home to Austria, I could finally think of something to write about – Christmas and New Year’s traditions in Austria.
Austria is a country that lives from and with its many traditions. And around Christmas and New Year there are a ton of them, some more and some less well know. Growing up in a small town where traditions are an essential part of everyday life, I have always been fond of exercising them and I have also tried to share them among my friends here in the Netherlands.
To be honest, those are the little things that I actually miss the most and which make it hard for me to actually focus on university work.
So here they are, my top 8 favourite traditions:
On December 4, people cut branches off a cherry tree (or other trees, depending on the cherry-tree branchesregion) and place them in a vase with some water. Legend has it that Saint Barbara got caught on a branch when on her way to prison. She is said to have placed the broken branch into a pot with water and that it blossomed the day she was sentenced to death. Nowadays though, a blossoming cherry branch does not symbolise death but good luck in the next year.
This has always been one of my favourite traditions as a little girl, even though it is very, very, very religiously-touched. Here, a painting or statue of the Virgin Mary is carried from house to house over several days to remind people of the difficult search for a … Mary and Joseph had when they went to Bethlehem. On the evening, when one’s house is host to the Virgin Mary, all participating persons come together over tea / Glühwein / … and Christmas cookies and do prayers and sing according to a set ritual which can take up to around two hours. I think here it becomes a bit obvious that I more or less just liked it that much because of the delicious cookies ;).
We Austrians do not believe in Santa Claus but in the Christkindl, an angelic girl dressed in white with fair curled hair. Each year, a lot of children write their letter to the Christkindl and since 1950 there even is an own post-office via which you can send your letters to receive a special stamp.
If you want to send your Christmas-cards via Christkindl, this is the address:
One could say that the Nikolaus is an equivalent to the Dutch Sinterklaas but in many cases he is not. They do not even share the same heritage, as Nikolaus comes all the way from Myra in Turkey.
In Austria, the Nikolaus is most of the times accompanied by the Krampus. In more rural areas, there are also other creatures such as the Buttenmandl (thay look like a big pack of straw), Nikoloweiberl or Perchten. From the latter there are two different forms, the Schenperchten (“beautiful”) and the Schiachperchten (“ugly”).
From December 26 until Faschingsdienstag, groups of men named a “Passe” get out their whips (“Goassl”) and wield them rhythmically to create a sound which should make the dark nights of the winter go away as well as waken the spirits of spring.
This is probably the most fun tradition here yet it only became interesting for me when I turned 16.
On 26 December groups of single men make their way to the houses of single women. As this tradition is mainly prevalent in rural areas, the men introduce themselves not by their names but their house-names when they enter the woman’s house. They are then given a shot of (mostly homemade) liquor to drink and then it is the woman’s turn to choose the one to cut the Störi, which is basically a loaf of bread. Here, the lucky man has to cut off the bread heel in such a way that it falls onto the woman’s apron and also is small enough to fit into a matchstick box. After cutting, the man has to place the bread on the table cut-side down and balance the knife he used to cut as well as a full shot-glass on the bread. Meanwhile, the woman decides in another room whether or not she wants to see the man again and indicates this with placing either the slice of bread (Yes) or potato-peel (No) into the matchstick box which she then wraps in paper and gives to the man. When the man is back home, he is allowed to open the box and if there is a piece of bread, he has to take the woman out on the next Kirtag (kermis).
It is a bit complicated but so much fun!
2: Neujahrskonzert der Wiener Philharmoniker
Every January 1, the Wiener Philharmoniker play their Neujahrskonzert at the Wiener Musikverein. It is being followed live by around 50 million people in 92 countries around the globe. Every year is a master-piece in its own but secretly, my favourite Neujahrskonzert up to now has been the one from 2015 with conductor Zubin Mehta, as I think that he put together a fantastic programme which had piece as the Studenten-Polka, Perpetuum Mobile and the Elektro-magnetische Polka (all by Johann Strauss Sohn) in it to celebrate the 650 jubilee of the Universität Wien as well as the bicentenary of the TU Wien.
And finally, my all-time favourite tradition – the Glöcklerlauf. During the last Rauhnacht (14 nights around Christmas) on Januray 5, people walk through the streets with big, handmade and illuminated “Glöcklerkappen” carried on their shoulders. This is done in order to bring back the light and shy away bad spirits. All of the caps are traditionally handmade and it takes a long time for them to be finished – but in my opinion it is totally worth it as they look just beautiful!