Oh tannenbaum: 5 classic christmas customs

Nativity scenes are part of the traditional Christmas customs in Austria. Photo: Adobe Stock, (c) Manuel Schonfeld

From cobwebs to KFC to lottery tickets: Worldwide Christmas traditions sometimes seem bizarre. In Austria there are comparatively Traditional customs around Christmas. In this article, we explain to you the meaning and origin of the most beautiful Christmas traditions.

Christmas traditions

The Christmas tree is the symbolic center On Christmas Eve. For a long time, however, Christmas was celebrated without a Christmas tree. We want to give our List of 5 classic Christmas traditions begin the international triumphal procession of the Christmas tree:

1. The Christmas tree

Christmas tree baubles are not everywhere. We present you the most beautiful Christmas customs! Photo: Adobe Stock, (c)

Decorated with Christmas tree balls, candles, tinsel and sweets, the Christmas tree makes children’s eyes shine and Christmas become something special. But since when do we have a fir tree in our living room at Christmas?? And why do we decorate them?

History of the Christmas tree

A legend says that a bakery from Freiburg im Breisgau is said to have hung a Christmas tree with apples, nuts and gingerbread for the first time in 1419. The Christmas tree decorated in this way stood in Freiburg’s Heilig-Geist-Spital and was allowed to be plundered by the children on New Year’s Day.

Around 1600, craftsmen from Bremen began decorating fir trees for Christmas. This custom of the craft guild gradually spread to the urban population. In the 18. In the nineteenth century, the custom then spread mainly among the wealthy middle class, as fir trees were even rarer and more expensive at that time. To meet the increasing demand, people bred in the 19. In the nineteenth century, fir and spruce forests spread throughout Europe.

Evergreen plants also had a special meaning in earlier cultures. Photo: Adobe Stock, (c) Anastassiya

Christmas tree Vienna& Surroundings

A comprehensive service around Christmas trees with delivery service offers you in the greater Vienna area the Christmas tree farmer Gernot Brandl. Until 22. December you can order Christmas trees up to two meters high here. Within Vienna and in selected districts in Lower Austria, customers enjoy a reliable delivery service. There are stalls in Baden, Trumau, Brunn am Gebirge and Pellendorf. The Christmas professional also organizes corporate events and undertakes the planning and implementation of Christmas celebrations.

2. The Christmas crib

The Christmas crib is a symbol of the birth of Christ. Photo: Adobe Stock, (c) ARochau

Everywhere in the world where Christmas is celebrated, there is the tradition of the Christmas crib. Where the exact origin of the crib lies, however, is unknown. Many contemplate the St. Francis of Assisi as the "forefather of the crib", since he went out into the woods and built a manger there.

Historical facts about the Christmas crib

In the Sistine Chapel of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore there is probably one of the oldest Christmas cribs in the world. It was made in 1289 by Arnolfo di Cambio from alabaster and has the shape of a small house, in which he depicted the adoration of the Magi.

Gothic carved altars may also have served as a model for the modern nativity scene, even if the Christmas scene was integrated into the altar. In 1480, for example, the South Tyrolean artist Michael Pacher designed an Epiphany group made of wooden figures, which is displayed in the altar of the church of St. Peter. Wolfgang can be seen in the Salzkammergut.

The nativity scene became popular in the baroque period. The Jesuits promoted the Counter-Reformation the spread of the Nativity scene as a devotional object in churches. From then on, the cult of the impressive Nativity scenes quickly spread to all the cities of Europe, even to the smallest village in the Alps. The home nativity scene celebrated its triumph all over the world.

A scene as it might have happened in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. Photo: Adobe Stock, (c) Saradelvallephoto


In a widespread custom around Ebersee and Bad Ischl (Salzkammergut), people visit home nativity scenes every year that several generations have worked on and are still working on. The spectacular nativity scenes fill entire rooms. On these tours you admire the special handicraft and go on a spiritual journey together (=Kripperlroas).

Buy Christmas crib

If you are looking for a beautiful Christmas crib, you will certainly find it in the online store of the garden center Dehner. Many hardware stores such as Hornbach also offer Christmas nativity scenes for sale. You can get individually and artistically sophisticated cribs in most woodcarving shops.

3. The Advent wreath

We explain you the meaning of the most beautiful Christmas traditions. Photo: Adobe Stock, (c) S.H.exclusive

To shorten the wait for Christmas Eve for his pupils and orphans, the Hamburg pedagogue built a Christmas tree Johann Hinrich Wicherner in 1839 a wreath made of wood with 23 candles. Every morning a candle was lighted. In this playful way the children also learned to count.

Only at the beginning of the 20. At the beginning of the twentieth century the classic Advent wreath with four candles, which were lit on the Advent Sundays before Christmas. Woven from fir branches, it still illustrates to small children at home that Christmas Eve is getting closer every week.

Although there are also Advent wreaths for sale in retail stores. The far more beautiful and creative wreaths, however, you get at the florist in your area.

4. The night of St. Thomas

St. Thomas’ Eve is the longest night of the year. Photo: Adobe Stock, (c) Craig Taylor Photo

The St. Thomas night is the shortest day of the year and marks the winter solstice. In earlier times, it also had the meaning of the turn of the year and was therefore considered in popular belief as a mythical night. People smoked their homes with incense and other herbs to protect themselves from evil spirits. On the other hand the Thomas night had also the character of an oracle night, which could grant a view into the future. In the Alpine region, for example, there was the custom of throwing a slipper into the air in front of the house. If the tip of the slipper pointed in the direction of the front door, unmarried people could expect a wedding soon.

Besides the Thomas night rang the Raunachte which lasts until 5. January last. In the Alps, the population observed many rules and prohibitions during these 12 days, so as not to bring a misfortune to their homes.

Even today, people in many places celebrate St. Thomas’ Eve with a nocturnal Walk in the forest, to listen there for indications of the nature.

5. The Christmas market

Christmas markets in Austria inspire countless people worldwide. Photo: Adobe Stock, (c) Mikhail Markovskiy

The Christmas celebration with tree and feast in the circle of the family exists only since 19. Century. Before that, Christmas was much more of a public event with nativity plays and Christmas markets playing. The latter played an important role since the Middle Ages a special role in the Christmas season. Christmas markets can also look back on a long tradition in Austria.

The meaning of Christmas

Do you actually know the origin of Christmas? Photo: Adobe Stock, (c)

The Origin of Christmas is far older than the birth of Jesus. The winter solstice (21. December) was considered a significant and holy day in early cultures – the days became longer again, the nights shorter again. In this context, the birth of a deity was often celebrated.

The ancient Egyptians celebrated the Winter Solstice The birth of the god Horus. In the Near East, the birth of the Indian light deity Mithras (Mithras cult) was celebrated on this day. The ancient Romans, in turn, paid homage to the god Saturn and celebrated on 25. December their Saturnalia. And the Scandinavians celebrate their Yule at the winter solstice.

In the course of Christianization and the introduction of the Julian calendar in 45 BC, the originally pagan celebration, however, is – along with Easter – the most important festival in Western culture. In the Holy Scriptures, Jesus is also called the "light of the world" (Jn. 8,12), which paved the way for an ecclesiastical adoption of the holiday.

The first historically documented Christian Christmas celebration took place in Rome in the year 336. Christmas and the birth of Christ were declared a dogma in 381 under Emperor Theodosius.

Tips for great Christmas gifts for your loved ones:

We wish you a merry Christmas and a blessed holiday!

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