Christmas For Members

How to celebrate Christmas like an Austrian

Hayley Maguire
Hayley Maguire - [email protected]
How to celebrate Christmas like an Austrian
Making an advent wreath at home and lighting the candles each week is one festive tradition you can follow even in a pandemic. Photo: Hilary Ungson/Unsplash

Most countries have their own Christmas traditions and Austria is no different. Here’s how to celebrate Christmas like an Austrian.


Light advent candles

Advent is an important season in Austrian culture and serves as a countdown to Weihnachten (Christmas). It begins four weeks before Christmas and traditionally involves lighting a new candle every Sunday during the evening meal.

During this time, no respectable Austrian living room is without an advent wreath, woven from evergreen twigs and decorated with ribbons and four candles. 

For anyone looking for a very lockdown-friendly way to celebrate Christmas like an Austrian, this is it.


Bake Christmas cookies

Christmas isn’t Christmas in Austria without a selection of cookies or Kekse - special festive biscuits that start appearing in every household and workplace from early December, or even late November.

The most popular are Vanillekipferl (crescent shaped biscuits), jam-filled Spitzbuben (rascals) or spiced ginger Lebkuchen

The traditional way to enjoy Kekse is by baking your own. However, if baking is not your forte, or you simply don’t have time, then Christmas cookies can be bought in most Austrian supermarkets and bakeries.

READ MORE: What are the Christmas deadlines in Austria for posting letters and parcels?

Roast chestnuts

Roasting chestnuts, known as Kastanien or Maronen in German, is a traditional part of Christmas in Austria.

The best way to enjoy chestnuts is by roasting them over an open fire (just like the song by Nat King Cole) at a festive outdoor get-together in the snow.

But if you're feeling lazy, using a regular oven in the comfort of your own home is also an alternative.

Get a real Christmas tree

Plastic trees are not as popular in Austria compared to other countries and most families like to have a real fir tree. 

The traditional way to decorate a Christmas tree is with real candles, but this could be a fire hazard so we recommend plug-in fairy lights instead.

Trees tend to go up in the home around a week before Christmas, although some trees will start appearing on balconies from the first Sunday of Advent.


Visit Christmas markets 

Austria’s Christmas markets are famous across the world and Vienna’s biggest market on Rathausplatz can be traced back to the year 1298. 

Almost every small town has its own Christmas or Advent market, and most of them will sell quality handmade products and crafts – rather than cheap tat. They are also a place to meet friends and drink Glühwein (mulled wine) or fruit Punsch, and munch on Lebkuchen, roasted almonds and chestnuts.

READ ALSO: How long are Austria's famous Christmas markets open this year?

Celebrate on Christmas Eve

For most people from English-speaking countries, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th with a decadent lunch of roasted turkey or ham. 

In Austria though, the main celebrations take place on the evening of December 24th, usually by gathering with friends and family for a meal. This is also when presents are exchanged.

Some traditional Austrian Christmas foods to enjoy on December 24th include fried carp, roasted goose, red cabbage, fondue or Bratwurst (roasted sausages) with sauerkraut.

READ ALSO: Do Austrians spend lots of money on Christmas gifts?

Smoke out the evil spirits

The 12 nights of Christmas (from December 24th to January 5th) are known as the Rauhnächte in Austria when some people burn incense and spread the scent around the house. 

This is meant to keep evil spirits and misfortune away from the house and family. The most important Rauhnächte are December 21st, 24th and 31st and January 5th or 6th (Epiphany).

The most common incense to use are sage, frankincense, juniper or myrrh.

Predict the future on New Years Eve

Another ancient ritual that is still celebrated today in Austria is Bleigiessen - although the origins are believed to come from Greece.

Bleigiessen involves placing metal (traditionally tin or lead) in a large spoon and melting it over a candle. The liquid is then dropped into a bowl of water and the shape is used to predict what the next year might hold.

This typically takes place on Sylvester - the Austrian name for New Years Eve.

KEY POINTS: What changes about life in Austria in 2024?



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