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CHRISTMAS

Nine festive foods and drinks that no Austrian Christmas is complete without

From the main Christmas meal to the traditional festive cookie selection and the street food favourites you can find at Christmas markets, here's everything you should eat and drink during the Austrian holiday season.

Gingerbread at Austrian market
Lebkuchen and more: here are our recommendations of what to eat and drink in Austria during the holiday season. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

Punsch

You’ll find all different flavours of punsch on offer: cherry, raspberry, orange, elderflower and more, and don’t forget the alcoholic versions which might add rum, amaretto or even orange liqueur. 

A similar popular drink is Jagertee, especially in apres ski venues, which is made with black tea, rum (usually the Stroh brand) and spices.

Two options for a new twist on the classic Austrian punsch in Vienna are Ramen Makotoya’s varieties with sake or Japanese plum wine (Reichsratsstraße 11, 1st district), or the pina colada punsch at cosy cafe Fett und Zucker (Hollandstraße 16, 2nd district).

READ ALSO: How to celebrate Christmas like an Austrian

Glühwein

A favourite in Austria as well as Germany, this mulled wine is usually spiced with cinnamon, cloves and citrus and served at Christmas markets in festive mugs (often shaped like a boot) for which you pay a deposit (Pfand). Either return your mug to get your deposit back, or keep it as a souvenir.

As with punsch, there are opportunities to branch out from the classics and experiment with white glühwein or fruity flavours.

And again, many bars and market stalls offer the option to add a Schuss or shot of rum or amaretto, for those times when you want an extra kick. Ever the masters of the literal, the translation of the German word “glowing wine” will add some colour to your cheeks.

Roast goose

Traditionally eaten with dumplings and red cabbage, roast goose is often the main event of the Austrian Christmas dinner, often following carp the previous day.

Goose is a popular dish throughout the whole winter, starting with the Martinigansl served around St Martin’s Day in mid-November.

READ ALSO: Where to find international food in Austria this Christmas

Bratkartoffel and Kartoffelpuffer

Two delicious ways of getting your potato fix this winter. Bratkartoffel are thin, crispy slices of fried potatoes are available through the winter at street food stalls in the Christmas markets as well as the roasted chestnut (maroni) stalls that pop up throughout Austria, while Kartoffelpuffer are potato pancakes usually made in a coal stove, which can be served with different toppings.

Raclette

A Swiss dish with a devoted fanbase in Austria, you’ll be able to taste this at Christmas market stalls. Melted cheese is used to top bread or potatoes, before adding extra fillings like meat, onions, and vegetables.

Lebkuchen

In the German-speaking world, gingerbread comes in several forms, though its often glazed with either a thin icing or chocolate. It’s less crispy than a gingerbread man and definitely more, well, bread like.

There’ll be no shortage of these during the festive season in Austria, as you’ll see hundreds of different designs hanging from stalls, often in heart shapes with festive messages iced on them. The perfect gift or edible souvenir.

Vanillekipferl

These delightful little crescent-shaped biscuits just melt in your mouth. They are normally made from ground almonds or hazelnuts, and then given a heavy dusting of vanilla sugar. These are a staple in the selections of Weihnachtskekse (Christmas cookies) that are available at most markets and stores selling food, and make great gifts, contributions to a holiday party, or just snack supplies for the holidays.

Recipe: Three seasonal twists on classic Kipferl cookies

Spekulatius

This is a Christmas cookie spiced with a combination of cinnamon and cloves. The biscuit is very thin, crunchy, slightly browned and usually has a Christmassy image or figure stamped on the front before baking. The bottom of the cookie is flat. Imagine a slimmed-down, spiced-up version of shortbread. Because they are so dry and brittle, they make a good companion to coffee.

Rumkugeln

Literally translated as ‘rum balls’, these are another fixture in the Austrian Christmas cookie box, small truffle-like chocolate balls with a hit of rum or brandy. They supposedly date back to the 19th century and are easy to make at home.

Useful links

Austrian Tourist Board – has recipes for several of these dishes including Lebkuchen, Vanillekipferl, Linzer Cookies and a boozy Punsch

Austrian Supermarket – order Austrian food with free shipping over a minimum spend throughout the EU

Austrian Food – order Austrian delicacies in the UK

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AUSTRIAN TRADITIONS

Austrian Christmas traditions: The festive dates you need to know

Catholics celebrate the first Sunday of Advent this weekend, and Austrians are ready for the season with crowns, demon-like creatures lurking, and a winged baby that brings children toys.

Austrian Christmas traditions: The festive dates you need to know

The Christmas season is definitely full of events in Austria, a country where 55.2 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, according to Statistik Austria data from 2021. The season starts early, as Christmas markets open by mid-November, and lasts until January 6th, when Austrians traditionally bring down their season decorations.

There are also many specific dates and local traditions that can seem endearing or absolutely terrifying. For example, in early December, a nice man with a white beard brings tangerines and chocolates to good children. 

But before he does, his “assistant”, a nightmarish creature with horns and carrying around loud chains named Krampus, goes to the houses of children who misbehave.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: A guide to the main Christmas Markets in Austria

Christmas markets are open to all from mid (sometimes early) November, and Austrians traditionally flock to the spots for their yearly share of glühwein, punsch and typical food. The cities also light up with Christmas lights and decorations, and the season is one of the best for Austrian tourism, especially in the capital Vienna. You can see HERE a list of all the Viennese Christmas markets in 2022.

Don’t want to miss out on any traditions? Here are the dates for the Austrian Christmas season:

Advent Sundays (November 27th)

The fourth Sunday before Christmas is also known as the first Advent Sunday – it starts the “season of Advent” (or the season of “Arrival”) and many Austrian Christmas traditions.

This year, the first Advent Sunday is on November 27th.

Austrians will typically celebrate by baking Christmas biscuits and cookies, putting up some decorations and, most notably, preparing an Advent wreath (Adventkranz) that will hold the four candles of Advent. 

Then, every Sunday until Christmas, a new candle will be lit, counting down the time until Christmas. Some families will join in a celebratory meal and might even sing carols (including Silent Night which is actually Austrian).

Adventskalender (December 1st)

Another way of counting down the days until Christmas is with the traditional Adventskalender – those can start on the first Sunday of Advent. However, the commercial ones are typically from December 1st until December 25th.

There are countless calendars for sale and usually, for each day, the person gets a typical “present” that the person receives. Usually, it’s chocolates or sweets (more religious ones will contain a bible verse or a prayer), but nowadays, you can find Adventskalender of almost any theme – including for dogs.

READ ALSO: Eight unmissable Christmas experiences in Austria

Barbarazweig (December 4th)

On December 4th, Austrians celebrate St Barbara’s Day or Barbaratag. In 2022, the date also falls on an Advent Sunday. 

For Barbaratag, some people in Austria will cut small twigs and sticks from cherry trees or forsythias to decorate a vase at home. There is a superstition that if the twig blossoms before Christmas, the family will have good luck or someone will get married. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Is travelling to Austria this winter worth it?

Participants wearing masks featuring the character of “Krampus”, a half-goat, half-demon figure punishing misbehaving children during the Christmas season. (Photo by Peter Kneffel / dpa / AFP)

Krampus (December 5th)

This might be one of the most unusual and surprising traditions (if you have never seen it before, that is). On December 5th, a horned, scary anthropomorphic devil creature visits the homes of Austrians and scares children who weren’t good kids during the year. They are also said to scare away the dark spirits of winter and are a very traditional part of local folk customs.

There are many Krampuslaufen (a sort of Krampus parade) in Austria – not all on December 5th. In them, people dress up as the demonic entity with chains and torches. 

READ ALSO: German Advent word of the day: Der Krampus

Nikolaus

Krampus is actually a companion to the much more friendly St. Nicholas, an entity that looks quite a lot like Santa Claus. 

St. Nicholas comes during the night of the 5th to 6th of December and rewards the well-behaved children with tangerines, sweets and peanuts. This is why your Austrian neighbours might leave their boots outside on that evening – Nikolaus fills them up with gifts and sweets. 

He has a long white beard and wears a religious vestment that is white and red, similar to a bishop’s vest.

READ ALSO: Posting Christmas presents from Austria? Here’s what you need to know

Christmas Eve and Christkind (December 24th)

If you think a lot has happened already, then imagine Christmas Eve. This is when the actual celebrations happen (not on the 25th). The shops will close early, and families will gather to decorate the Christmas tree – yes, it’s not uncommon for Austrians to follow this tradition of only decorating the tree on December 24th.

They also meet for Christmas eve dinner, which can vary greatly depending on family traditions and Austrian regions. From raclette to roasted geese or cold meats, much can be served during the evening. 

Another thing that might sound strange to foreigners is that there is no Santa Claus or Father Christmas in Austria. Instead, it is the “Christkind” (literally Christ Child, or baby Jesus) who brings the presents on Christmas eve.

READ ALSO: Where to find international food in Austria this Christmas

He looks much like a Cherubin and the children are told that he brings the presents, rings a bell and lights up the Christmas tree. 

The whole experience may seem curious to those watching for the first time: kids are lured into a separate room and the adults run to get gifts from the secret hiding places, set up the scene, turn on the tree lights and turn off other lights. Some then ring a small bell and the children are surprised to learn that they barely missed the winged baby who brought all the gifts.  

Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day (December 25th and 26th)

Though the evening before Christmas is the most important, Austrians continue to meet up during the next day and the 26th. 

Lunches and dinners are shared with loved ones and there is some more gift exchanging during those days. If they live in the mountains, they might go skiing on Christmas Day and later, as well.

READ ALSO: How to save money and still go skiing in Austria

Three wise men tree ornament

Epiphany is when the three wise men find Jesus in the stable. Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash

Three Wise Kings Day (January 6th)

Finally, the Christmas tree and the decorations are left until January 6th. In Catholic belief, this is when the three wise kings came to visit baby Jesus with presents. 

Kaspar, Melchior and Balthazar might literally visit Austrian homes. They then leave their mark: their initials and the year written in chalk above the house door, the K + M + B sign that is often seen by the doors of people in Austria.

January 6th is also Christmas eve for Orthodox believers and is celebrated by many people in Austria.

Austria is a small but very diverse country with countless traditions, especially during Christmas time. Did we miss your favourite one? Let us know by emailing us at [email protected] or leaving a comment.

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