feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 is the beginning of Christmas,
Austria's most important holiday of the year. When he arrives, the
saint is accompanied by the devil, and children are expected to tell
them about their good deeds and bad deeds. Santa protects the children
from the devil during their visit, promising them fruit, nuts and
candy if they will be good.
The Christmas tree is
a popular custom in Austrian homes and sometimes it is decorated
by the parents and kept in a locked room until Christmas Eve. Following
a traditional family dinner of fried carp, a bell is rung and the
tree is exhibited in a blaze of glory. Our Austrian tree is decorated
with handpainted balls from Austria.
Shortly before midnight
on Christmas Eve, some churches have trumpeters or carolers climb
to the bell towers to either trumpet or sing Christmas music to
serenade families on their way to midnight church service. Rural
families may hold torches as they make their way down from the mountains,
quite a dramatic sight.
It was during the Christmas
season of 1818 in the village of Oberndorf that teacher Franz Gruber
and parish priest Joseph Mohr composed the most beloved Christmas
song of all time, Stille Nacht, or Silent Night, and sang it accompanied
by a guitar for the Christmas Eve service in Father Mohr's church.
The song was probably used for awhile in St. Nicola's parish and
then forgotten. Years later when a famous organ builder came to
the church to repair the organ, the song was found and never lost
The Christmas season
ends in Austria on New Year's Eve which marks the beginning of a
new year as well as the social season known as Fasching which lasts
seven weeks and has many festivities to help Austrians pass the