Christmas fairs are said to have originated in medieval Germany, but Austria also has a long history of holding a winter market, with the first Krippenmarkt
recorded in Vienna in 1296. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that today’s celebrations are so rich in tradition, with carol singing, elaborate Nativity scenes, and even an appearance from Krampus – St Nicholas’ sinister companion.
Of the carols drifting between the festive market stalls, one is sure to be Stille Nacht
, or Silent Night. This was composed in 1818 in the small town of Oberdorf, near Salzburg, and offered a message of peace and hope shortly after the devastating Napoleonic Wars.
In Salzburg itself, another much-loved Christmas custom is on view at the markets. Emperor Joseph II inadvertently started the tradition of the Nativity scene in 1782, when he forbade churches from setting up cribs; this prompted craftsmen to create their own – often very large and ornate – Nativity displays, and the tradition has persisted to this day.
Of course, a Christmas market wouldn’t be a Christmas market without some festive treats, and Austria has many specialities, including hot spiced punch
(cinnamon star biscuits) and Linzer cookies
. Why not follow the links for instructions on how to recreate these Christmas market staples at home?