As much as we crossed our fingers and hoped for a White Christmas, we did not get one. We did, however, get a white Boxing Day.
This about sums up our reaction:
Christmas for us was a whirlwind. It was our first Christmas in Vienna, and our first holiday season away from families and childhood traditions. Just as every cloud has a silver lining, there were things to look forward to even though we would be away from family. This would be our first Christmas with a real tree, with our own decorations, with the ability to pick, choose, and blend our two family's traditions into some of our own. It was also the first Christmas spent together where we weren't wondering how we would fit the gifts we bought each other into suitcases or boxes to move across the world. Our apartment is furnished to the extent that we have everything we need to survive, but still have many things we want, it is easy to get excited over little things like tongs and picture frames.
[Or vacuum cleaners. I didn't receive a vacuum for Christmas this year, (I did get an immersion blender though! Woohoo! Mine broke and blew a fuse the moment I plugged it in at our apartment.) so I have decided I will simply purchase one myself. In the meantime I have gotten really good at rug-beating, and have developed greater respect for the bicep strength of Victorian era maids.]
We purchased our Christmas tree some weeks ago in early-mid December. By many people's standards, we waited a little long to get our tree. As we acquainted ourselves with Viennese traditions, we learned a shocking truth: Austrians don't typically decorate their Christmas tree until Christmas Eve.
Here's a general break down of Austrian Christmas tradition: The Advent Sundays are highly observed, and Advent wreaths seen everywhere. In early December St. Nicholas comes around to deliver sweets and presents to the good children, while his counterpart, the demonic Krampus, goes around beating the bad children with sticks and dragging them to his lair. Many areas of Austria have re-enactments of St. Nicholas and Krampus, complete with drunk people beating each other with sticks. Just a little Christmas spirit!
In the meantime the winter markets are in full swing, with Gluhwein (mulled wine), Krapfen (filled donuts), and Maroni (roasted chestnuts) consumed by the kilo. On Christmas Eve, or perhaps a couple days before, a family will purchase their Christmas tree. It remains erected in the living room, undecorated, until the ceremonial lighting hour on Christmas Eve.
When the time comes, the children are ushered out of the house, and the "Christkind" or Christ-child, (represented by a cherubic little blonde girl with angel wings), comes to the house to decorate the tree and deliver presents. When the children return, voila! The house is decorated, the tree is lit, and the presents sit under the tree. Madness ensues. Children unwrap their presents, the parents look on in contentment, and perhaps head off to a Midnight Mass later in the night.
Christmas day is devoted to eating.
Sounds like a lovely Christmas, doesn't it? There were a few things, however, that our American-selves could not give up. For me, the best part of Christmas is the anticipation: baking cookies, decorating the tree, slowly watching the pile of presents grow as you approach Christmas morning, etc. So Jacob and I proved our ex-pat-ness and set out to buy a tree way before the tree markets had been set up.
We had heard they were sold at a hardware store called OBI, nearly identical in layout and branding to Home Depot. It was just a short tram way and walk away, Jacob said. So one cold night we hopped on the tram, got off at our stop, and began walking - down the huge hill, under the freeway, through a poorly lit industrial area with no sidewalks - this was getting sketchy. Then! There it was! By this point we were committed. There was no way we would go home without a Christmas Tree.
Successful in attaining a nice tree, we hauled it back under the freeway, up the hill, and onto a tram as we deflected stares from locals. If only they understood the joy of having a Christmas tree weeks in advance.
Weeks later we began to see the Christmas tree markets appear in the public squares. Sure, that was more convenient, but what amazed us was the price. Some of the tallest trees, (and granted they were tall), cost over 300 Euro! In the grand scheme of things that may not be expensive for a gorgeous 10-foot tree, but it is pricey when you purchase the tree on Christmas Eve only to pile it up here on Boxing Day:
All of that, I know, doesn't actually tell you what we did on Christmas, and why it was a whirlwind. If there was one tradition we would be keeping, it was Jacob's morning Christmas rolls (like Monkey Bread - coated in butter, sugar, and cinnamon before being baked). Christmas Eve we went to a friend's house to enjoy a traditional Viennese Christmas with them and their children. It was a truly lovely time. Their tree had real candles on it, and ever sparklers lit and fizzing for the grand unveiling of the tree. Fire Extinguisher was close at hand. Afterwards we opened presents and enjoyed a spectacular dinner and good conversation. The next morning Jacob and I baked our Christmas rolls, opened presents, and had a quiet morning together before friends came over for a late lunch.
Then we made gingerbread houses...which got a little crazy.
After our lunch and Gingerbread House competition (Kathryn won with her Breaking Bad Gingerbread house-turned meth lab), we adjourned to another friend's house for games. Boxing Day we were on the road again, this time to another friend's house for a Christmas leftover feast.
As I said - it was a whirlwind, and yet we wouldn't have had it any other way.