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Celebrating with VAYA: The most beautiful
Christmas traditions in Austria

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Christmas traditions in Austria

The festival of festivals is approaching quickly. And thus also a time in which most families revive time-honored traditions. Some vary greatly from region to region, while others are committed throughout the country. And many are only known in your own family. Some are obvious, such as a visit to the Christmas market or baking cookies. Others may not be quite as well known. If you have always wondered which Christmas traditions are upheld in Austria, then you should definitely read on.

The Light of Peace

Every year in the run-up to Christmas, the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) organises a large fundraising campaign on television with the “Licht ins Dunkel-Gala”. In 1986, a spectator had the idea to thank all those who had donated with a light. Since then, every year a child has been sent to Bethlehem in the Grotto of the Nativity of Jesus to collect the light of peace. It is traditionally brought to Vienna by the Austrian airline Austrian Airlines in an explosion-proof container.

From there, the scouts distribute it on the third Sunday of Advent after a celebration. And not only scouts from all over Austria are present, but from all over Europe and from other parts of the world. They help to bring the light to many countries of the world. On 24 December, you can pick up the light at many train stations, in many churches, in the ORF regional studios and in scout homes. The light should be kept burning for as long as possible and symbolize boundless peace.

“Barbarazweige einwässern”

On December 4th, the name day of Saint Barbara, a small fruit tree branch is cut off. You water it and set it up in the house. When it blooms on Christmas Eve, you can rejoice. Because that means happiness for the whole year. In the past, young girls watered several branches. Each of them stood for a different admirer. The branch that blossomed first pointed to their future husband.


Christmas traditions in Austria are often strongly interwoven with religious beliefs. In some parts of Tyrol, the “Anklöpfeln” is still celebrated today. It is even part of UNESCO’s Intangible World Heritage. On the three Thursdays before Christmas (“Klöpfelnächte”), people dressed as shepherds go from house to house. Most of them are men. They knock on the door; if they are invited in, they get in the mood for Christmas with songs and music. The Anklöpfeln is known in other parts of Austria in a slightly modified form as “hostel search”. Because this is to commemorate Mary and Jesus, who were looking for a place to stay on Christmas Night.

Visit crib exhibitions

In the west of Austria, the nativity scene is of great importance. Many of the carved works of art have often been in the family for many generations. They depict the birth of Jesus in oriental surroundings as well as in typical Tyrolean appearance. Around Christmas time you can visit crib exhibitions in many places and admire the handmade masterpieces. The most beautiful and sometimes curious ones can be found in the Tyrolean Folk Art Museum.  Innsbruck.


The night of the 24th and 31st of December and the 5th of January are considered Rauhnächte. On these evenings, many families walk through all the rooms of the house with a pan of crackling incense and holy water. And if there is a stable, this is not left out. By “fumigating” evil spirits are to be driven away. In addition, it should protect the family from disaster and disease.


Around January 6th, children dressed as “three wise men from the East” go from house to house. They ask for donations for charitable projects with songs and poems. Where they have been admitted, they leave the year and the letter sequence C + M + B on the door frame with chalk. It stands for “Christus Mansionem Benedicat”. Translated, this means “Christ bless this house”. From the letters later developed the names of the three wise men: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. This is then the last of the Christmas traditions in Austria. Then the carnival season begins.

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