It’s Christmas Eve, and Austria is our next port of call for our Christmas Around the World blog series. Don’t forget you can find out about the festive season in other countries, including Poland and Italy, by reading back over our previous posts.

The build-up

Like many other European countries, Austria kicks off its festive season on December 6th, which is the Feast of St Nicholas. However, the way this day is marked differs slightly from its neighbours.

The children of Austria are visited by St Nicholas, who doesn’t ask for a list of the toys they want, but for a list of the good and bad deeds they have been responsible for in the last year. He does not travel alone either, but is accompanied by the Devil.

This ‘holiday devil’ is known as the Krampus, and is a frightening figure believed to put naughty children in his sack and take them away to his lair. However, other descriptions say that he is harmless as he is chained to St Nicholas. Either way, the Krampus is certainly frightening to look at, as he is covered in hair and has the hooves and horns of a goat. Today, it is not unknown for young men to dress up as the Krampus and try to give the children who live near them a fright.

Anyone who doesn’t want to take the chance of seeing whether it is St Nicholas or the Krampus who has a gift for them can stock up on their own presents by visiting one of the Christmas markets. Some of these, like those in Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck, are huge and feature hundreds of stalls.

Who is the Austrian Santa?

There is no Santa Claus in Austria, but that’s not to say kids miss out on getting gifts. One tradition is that all presents received on St Nicholas Day are placed under the tree and not opened until Christmas Eve.

Another belief is that the gifts are delivered by the Kristkindl – an angel who represents the new born Christ. According to the story, he not only distributes presents on Christmas Eve, but also beautifully-decorated trees. As well as the tree, almost every home has a manger scene that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Before any gifts are opened, a passage from the Bible is read out and then the family may sing Silent Night, which was composed in Austria nearly 200 years ago. By this point, the children will certainly be in high spirits as it is only after they have eaten on Christmas Eve that they are able to see the tree and open their presents.

The feast

December 24th is when the main Christmas dinner is eaten in Austria. Fried carp – or Gebackener Karpfen – is usually the centrepiece of the meal, in keeping with the avoidance of meat before Christmas Day.

There are plenty of desserts to follow the savoury course. Sachertorte is an Austrian speciality and is a rich chocolate sponge cake with apricots. Weihnachtsbaeckerei – a Christmas cookie – is also served, along with Lebkuchen, which is similar to gingerbread and flavoured with spices and honey.

On Christmas Day, ham is often a more popular meat to serve than turkey, although some people prefer goose. Families gather around to tuck into this feast and knock back mugs of mulled wine or rum punch. Dessert is something a bit lighter than an English Christmas pudding – a delicious chocolate mousse.

If you’re spending Christmas in Austria, why not share some of your own Christmas customs below?

You can find out about Christmas in other countries in the links below:

Christmas in Italy:

Christmas in Spain:

Christmas in France:

Christmas in Germany: