Reader question: What happens in Austria when a holiday falls on a weekend?

Labour Day is coming up, and for many, the holiday is an opportunity to get some much-deserved rest. This year, though, it falls on Sunday. What does that mean?

A woman takes a selfie in front of tulips blossoming at Karlsplatz in Vienna
Spring season or der Frühling (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Celebrated on May 1st, Labour Day has been a public holiday throughout Austria for more than 100 years. 

It is known in the country as a “general day of rest and celebration”, and much of the events that take place on May 1st are dominated by the social democrats, who take the streets of Vienna in large marches, speeches and demonstrations. 

Even those who do not participate in the celebrations marking the struggles – and victories – of workers worldwide do enjoy the fact that, as a bank holiday (one of the few non-religious ones in Austria), they get to stay at home and not work for a day.

But this year, the holiday falls on a Sunday, meaning Austrians will miss out on one of their 13 public holidays of the year.

READ ALSO: Five spring destinations from Austria – and the Covid rules in place

It wouldn’t be the first time this year, as New Year’s day was also on a Sunday, and Christmas will be too. 

The ‘lost’ holidays

For many immigrants, the fact that Austria doesn’t have a “compensation day” if a holiday falls on the weekend can be surprising.

In total, 85 countries, including Belgium, England, Spain, and Thailand, will give a day off to workers if the holiday happens to be on the weekend. In addition, Austrian neighbours such as Switzerland and Germany have been discussing adopting such measures to avoid stress and give “urgently needed rest” to workers. 

There hasn’t been much talk in Austria about that, possibly because the country has other struggles to fight when it comes to holidays (including the fact that Good Friday is not a bank holiday) and plenty of controversy concerning rest days

READ ALSO: Why is Good Friday not a holiday in Austria?

So what happens when a holiday falls on a weekend in Austria?

First of all, it depends on whether it is a Saturday or a Sunday.

Saturday is technically not a rest day, so people who usually work on Saturdays will have the day off (or get double pay for working on a holiday), and most shops and supermarkets will close.

This is when people will see a significant difference in daily life and in their work life.

READ ALSO: Six tourist scams to be aware of in Austria

However, when a holiday falls on a Sunday, very little changes. This is because Sundays and public holidays are regulated by the same laws. In both cases, stores and shops will be closed, and people who need to work will receive double pay on their basic hourly wage. 

So if a holiday falls on a Sunday, most shops will still be closed as they usually would have been, and those who need to work will receive a 100 per cent surcharge on their hourly wages. 

These are the general rules, but in Austria, much of the labour laws are governed by collective agreements of specific professions. Additionally, the federal regulations determine that exceptions to the weekend and holiday rest can be made for some essential workers, and exceptions can be granted after a specific ordinance by authorities.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: The latest coronavirus restrictions in Austria

For non-essential workers who usually run a Monday to Friday work week, not much changes then, and yes, the holiday on a Sunday would be “lost”. 

However, for these people, holidays on a Saturday are not only lost as rest days, but as possible shopping and grocery days as well – leading to some very long Friday evening supermarket lines.

High quality of life

With the rest day on a Sunday enshrined in Austria’s cultural traditions, workers can be sure that they will have a day to recharge at least one day a week.

But more than that, Austria also has one of the highest numbers of national public holidays, at 13 (with some states having up to 15). 

Workers are also entitled to one “private holiday” a year, which works similarly to a public holiday, but can be taken any day. 

Austria tops the list among the nine countries covered by The Local. At the same time, Germany only has nine national holidays, and some Swiss communes can have as few as five in total.

READ MORE: What are The Local Austria’s ‘reader questions’?

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Why Nikolaustag is celebrated before Christmas – and where to see him in Austria

Each December 6th, children in Austria celebrate 'St. Nikolaus Day'. But why does the Santa look-alike come so early and why do all the children place their shoes outside their front doors the evening before?

Why Nikolaustag is celebrated before Christmas - and where to see him in Austria

Is Nikolaus the same as Santa Claus?

Though they have similar outfits, Nikolaus (also known as Nikolo) is not to be confused with Santa Claus, who is not a figure of Austrian Christmas celebrations. Many religious families focus more on Nikolaus earlier in December to ensure that Christmas is actually about Jesus’ birth and not presents from an Americanised and commercialised Santa.

Who is Nikolaus, then?

Each year on December 6th, Austrians (and Germans) remember the death of Nicholas of Myra (now the Anatolia region of modern Turkey), who died on that day in 346. He was a Greek Christian bishop known for miracles and giving gifts secretly and is now the patron saint of little children, sailors, merchants and students.

READ ALSO: Austrian Christmas traditions: The festive dates you need to know

Why do children set their shoes out on the night of December 5th? 

The custom began because the historical St. Nicholas had a reputation for leaving secret gifts, such as coins, in people’s shoes overnight. Kids traditionally put out their boots, though shoes or stockings will suffice for those without boots.

And the boots have to be polished first?

Definitely. Dirty boots are unacceptable. Children polish their shoes to show they’ve been good. They usually place just one boot outside their door, so they don’t appear too greedy, though.

What do naughty children get?

This depends on different family traditions. Sometimes Nikolaus only leaves a switch (of wood) in the boot, ostensibly for spankings, to show that the child doesn’t deserve a treat. In other families, a man disguised as St. Nicholas will visit the family or the child’s school alone or with his sinister-looking alter ego, Knecht Ruprecht, to question the children about their behaviour.

READ ALSO: Everything that changes in Austria in December 2022

What does his outfit look like?

He is usually pictured with a long white beard, a bishop’s mitre and a red cloak, sometimes with a sack over his shoulder and a rod in his hand.

Does Nikolaus come again on Christmas Eve, then?

No. 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.

He looks much like a Cherubin and 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.  

READ ALSO: 8 things to know if you’re visiting Austria in December

Where can I see St Nikolaus?

Many cities organise walks and parades with St. Nikolaus, so it’s not uncommon to see him on his day or around it. For example, in Vienna, the city promotes the St. Nikolaus visits to markets. This is where you can find him:

On December 6th:

10-11 am Rochusmarkt, 1030 Wien

10-11 am Viktor-Adler-Markt, 1100 Wien

11:30-12:30 Naschmarkt, 1060 Wien

11:30-12:30 Hannovermarkt, 1200 Wien

01-2 pm Meidlinger Markt, 1120 Wien

01-2 pm Brunnenmarkt, 1160 Wien

02:30-3:30 pm Floridsdorfer Markt, 1210 Wien

02:30-3:30 pm Meiselmarkt, 1150 Wien

On December 7th:

01-2 pm: Vorgartenmarkt, 1020 Wien

02:30-3:30 pm  Karmelitermarkt, 1020 Wien

02:30-3:30 pm Kutschkermarkt, 1180 Wien

04-5 pm Volkertmarkt, 1020 Wien

 On December 15th:

02-03 pm: Matznermarkt, 1140 Wien

Frohen Nikolaustag!

READ ALSO: What are Austria’s last posting dates for Christmas 2022?