Getting in the mood for Christmas - Advent season!
Advent season ('Advent') starts four full weeks prior
to Christmas. On four subsequent Sundays the family joins
around the traditional advent wreath with four candles ('Adventkranz').
Each Sunday one more candle is lit to mark the advent of Christmas.
Often this time is used for singing Christmas carols and generally
getting ready for Christmas. This might include reading stories,
drinking tea and getting a first taste of delicious Christmas
cookies. (Strictly speaking 'Advent' is a season of fasting
but it is a save bet that at least as many people nibble cookies
as manage to refrain.)
An advent calendar ('Adventkalender') features 24 little bags or windows that you can open one by one starting at the 1st of December. The bags contain little presents; the windows contain either images or chocolate. When you open the last window/bag Christmas Day has arrived.
Children are asked to compose a list of wishes addressed to the 'Christkindl', which fetches all lists from the windowsill and leaves a small surprise present. Speaking of the 'Christkindl': Christkindlmärkte are another fascinating aspect of advent season.
December 5th and 6th - Krampus and Nikolaus
'Krampus' and 'St. Nikolaus'
play an ancient game of 'good cop bad cop' with the 'Krampus'
aiming to punish your wrongdoings and 'St. Nikolaus' making
amends the day after. Actually, traditions vary all over Austria:
you might find both of them making house visits on the 6th of
December, you might find the local youth dressing up as gangs
of 'Krampusse' and haunting the streets a day before St. Nikolaus
visits the families.
Here's what they look like: St. Nikolaus is clad in red with an shock of white hair and an enormous beard. He carries a bountiful bag filled with presents. If you see him recite a poem to get presents. A 'Krampus' hides beneath a special suit of fur and a (carved) mask or painted face. He often carries cowbells and always a birch. If you see him - run!