Christmas in Austria
Austria is one of the most magical places that is full of high mountains and deep lakes.
But for me the magic of Austria comes alive at Christmas.
Having spent most of my life in South Wales in the UK spending time in Austria at Christmas is special.
First, I was able to celebrate Christmas twice, once on the 24th and again on the 25th.
In Austria it is the 24th where Christkindl arrives to deliver the presents compared to the 25th when Father Christmas brings the presents in the UK.
The method of delivery is quite different, for instance whilst Father Christmas enters the home down a chimney, Christkindl normally enters through an open window.
Stille Nacht (Silent Night).
Oberndorf on the river Salzach in Austria is where the Christmas Carol Stille Nacht (Silent Night) was first preformed in Nicholas Parish Church. This beautiful and magical piece of music was composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to the lyrics by Joseph Mohr.
It is such a magical piece of music and brought comfort and joy to those who had just undergone the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars which devastated much of central Europe.
The words and music spread throughout Europe rapidly by traveling merchants who sang this song as they went from country to country.
It is a magical piece of music and can have a profound effect on any listner.
Christkindl v Santa
Father Christmas is a representation of the Catholic Saint Nicholas who brought presents to Children at the beginning of advent on the 6th of December.
Saint Nicholas was born during the third century in Patara, Asia Minor and was made Bishop of Myra.
He was very generous and was always helping and giving to people in need, he loved children so it’s easy to see where the roots of Father Christmas originated from.
Why did Father Christmas change into Christkindl?
Although Austria is predominantly a Catholic country, Christkindl was introduced during the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther during the 16th and 17th Century.
Martin Luther did not like the idea of a Catholic Saint bring gifts to Protestant children and this combined with his idea that it was blasphemous to idolise Saints led to the creation of Christkindl, the Christ Child, who brought gifts on the last day of Advent, December 24th.
As Austria became more secular these two characters evolved in different ways.
Father Christmas became more of a modern day version where he was celebrated regardless of religion.
Christkindl evolved from the idea of baby Jesus into a blond female angelic being.
Tradition v Commercialism
Martin Luther’s idea of replacing the Catholic Saint Nicholas with the Protestant Christkindl succeeded. But in Austria Christkindl is under threat not from the Catholic Church but from commercialism in the secular world.
Some people in Austria and supporters of Christkindl see the modern American idea of Santa undermining traditional values of peace, calm and family unity and replacing it with commercialism.
This feeling became so strong that a pro Christkindl Association was started in Innsbruck which asked shop keepers to replace the images of Santa in their shop windows to ones of the Christkindl.
In 2009 in the old quarter of Graz, Austria’s second city, there was a candlelight procession through the city. This procession was to save Christkindl, the Christmas gift giver, from the red and white menace of the commercial Santa.
They both are present bringers.
For me I have falling in love with the idea of Christkindl and the traditional aspect of what Christmas should be, Peace and harmony and good will to all.
I was privileged to listen to a single voice singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night) on Christmas Eve in an empty church in Kaprun, Austria. I will never forget that moment as I felt the presence of the Christmas Spirit fill every corner of the Church and it filled every part of me with the Spirit of Christmas.
Long Live Christkindl but why not have both !