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EXPLAINED: Why is January 6th a public holiday in Austria?

There are no less than 13 public holidays in Austria, and the first one of the year - besides January 1st, is January 6th. But why is it a public holiday?

EXPLAINED: Why is January 6th a public holiday in Austria?
Carolers dressed as the three Wise Men sing on January 6, 2012 in Bad Kleinkirchheim, some 300 kilometers south-west of Vienna. AFP PHOTO / DIETER NAGL

In 2023, January 6th falls on a Friday, giving people in Austria their first long weekend of the year.

Like most national holidays, this one also has religious roots – more specifically, Catholic roots. On January 6th, Catholics celebrate the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ, hence the name Epiphany, and a celebration of the “adoration of the Magi” when the three kings visited the newborn Christ.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to maximise your annual leave in Austria in 2023

In Austria, the holiday is known as Heilige Drei Könige, or three holy kings. 

How do Austrians celebrate it?

There are several traditions happening on this date. If you have your Christmas decorations and Christmas tree up, this is usually when people take them down and pack them up for the year. 

However, the most common tradition is the Sternsinger (star singers), a group of young people that travel from door to door dressed as kings and singing in four-part harmony. If they knock on your door, they may sing, bless your home – and expect a donation for a cause organised by the churches. 

READ ALSO: Austrian traditions: How to celebrate St. Martin’s Day in Austria

If you live in Austria, you’ve probably seen a house or another with chalk marking just above the door. This means that the house was blessed by the Sternsinger, who then marked the year of the blessing and the initials of the three kings – Kaspar, Melchior and Balthazar – over the doorway. 

Religious families may also attend a solemn mass at the church and have a big family meal to celebrate the date.

For Orthodox believers, January 6th is also Christmas eve.  This is based on the fact that Orthodox Christians use a different calendar.

READ ALSO: Why everything in Austria is closed on Sundays – and what to do instead

As it is a public holiday, most stores and supermarkets will be closed. However, restaurants are still open, and if you find yourself with an empty fridge, convenience stores in petrol stations and supermarkets inside train and metro stations are still allowed to open in Austria, even on public holidays.

When is the next public holiday?

After Friday, people in Austria will have to wait a while for the following public holiday, as there are no official national ones in February or March. However, Easter Monday (again, a Christian celebration) will fall on April 10th.

As this holiday always is celebrated on Mondays in Austria, it will give you another chance to enjoy a long weekend.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: How do Austria’s public holidays stack up against the rest of Europe?

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REVEALED: The best and worst Austrian foods (as voted for by you)

Coming to Austria, whether to visit or live, can be a huge culinary treat. But there’s also some strong opinions on what alpine foods are better left off your plate.

REVEALED: The best and worst Austrian foods (as voted for by you)

Few things stoke a good friendly debate in Austria quite like chatting food. From the origin of the iconic Wiener Schnitzel to whether Austrian food is bland, expensive and meat-heavy – bringing food up is a surefire way to strike up a lively conversation among certain foreigners – and even native Austrians.

When we asked our readers to have their say on foods in a reader survey, you responded with your fair share of clear opinions as to what you’ll eat during your jausepause – or snack break.

READ ALSO: How did the Wiener Schnitzel become an Austrian icon?

Despite the common myth that Austrian cuisine is just meat – the options available were certainly enticing to our readers, whose responses to our recent survey definitely favoured meat. Whether it was Tafelspitz – a boiled beef or veal in broth, or Schweinhaxl – a huge pork knuckle that Gabriella, originally from Hungary but living in Salzburg, finds “crunchy and soft, with intense taste” – our readers like their Austria dishes meaty – or at least, certainly hearty.

READ ALSO: Seven common myths about Austrian food you need to stop believing

“Roast pork and sauerkraut,” says Julia Russell from the UK, who visits her son and grandson in Vienna often. “The roast pork is simple, generally tender, well done and not too salty. I also like the fermented cabbage.”

Goulash is a very typical seasonal food in Austria (Photo by Farhad Ibrahimzade on Pixels)

“Wiener goulash makes you feel at home, and it’s a hearty meal,” said Vineet from India, currently living in Vienna. “Wiener Schnitzel disappointed me the most. I vote to promote goulash as the real ‘Wiener’ dish.”

Meat, Käsespätzle, and goulash dominated the list of our reader favourites, surprisingly beating out many sweeter dishes, including apple strudel and Kaiserschmarrn – a pancake that’s lightly sweetened.

READ ALSO: Eight Austrian food mistakes you only make once

Readers also found certain Austrian classics to be particularly underwhelming – or even outright revolting.

Leberkäse, a sausage spread common to Austria and Bavaria in southern Germany, was cited by a handful of respondents as being their least favourite Austrian food. Several also mentioned Knödel – dumplings with mince meat in them.

The traditional Austrian Sachertorte (Photo by Leqi (Luke) Wang on Unsplash)
But, perhaps surprisingly – the most “popular” answer for least favourite Austrian food was Sachertorte – a cake that while, yes, is chocolatey – is sometimes considered underwhelming and dry.