12 things that make Christmas in Tirol a unique experience

Last updated 04.12.2019MaryMary
Christmas in Tirol Photo Credit: Alpbachtal Seenland / Bernhard Berger

With snow-covered mountains and festive markets, there are few places in the world more Christmassy than Tirol. But for outsiders, some of the customs and traditions might seem slightly on the odd side. We asked six newcomers to the region to share the things that surprised them most about Christmas in the Austrian Tirol.

1. Smoking out the bad

Tirol might just be the most superstitious place on the planet! The bizarre traditions are a constant source of entertainment for my family in London. One of my favourites is the “Rauchnächte” (Smoke Nights), which involves running around the house with a pan of burning coal or incense to smoke the rooms, before waving your hands and feet over the smouldering charcoal to “bless them” for even more hard work the next year.

 – Kate from London, UK. In Tirol for 27 years.

2. Christmas Day isn’t actually on Christmas Day

One of the strangest things about Christmas in Tirol? The calendar is all messed up. In the UK, the 25th of December is the main event: That’s when you open your presents and sit down for a massive meal. But in Austria, everyone celebrates on the evening of the 24th. I didn’t even realise until my first Christmas here when I tried to do some last minute shopping at 3 pm on Christmas Eve: EVERYTHING was closed.

– Mary from Suffolk, UK. In Tirol for four years.

3. There are Christmas Cookies everywhere

The Tiroleans love their Christmas Cookies, it’s like an obsession. Walk into a Tirolean house in December and you’ll see plates filled with sugar-coated gems. Treats like Vanillekipferl and Lebkuchen always get me into that Christmassy mood — I love it!

tima from Basque Country, Spain. In Tirol for three years.

4. Bring on the Glühwein

For me, the opening of the Christmas markets is the first sign that advent is approaching. They start in mid-November, and every year there’s a chorus of complaints about them beginning too early. But of course, we all go to them anyway. There are many to choose from throughout Tirol, but they all have one thing in common: lots and lots of Glühwein (mulled wine)!

– Tom from Lewes, UK. In Tirol for 15 years.

5. Santa isn’t real

Or at least, not as you know him. In Tirol, Father Christmas / Santa Claus calls about 20 days earlier, on St Nicholas Day. So who brings the presents on Christmas eve? The Christkind (literally, the Christ Child)! Yes, Sweet Baby Jesus deposits the gifts under the tree, ringing a bell once the deed is done.

– Mary from Suffolk, UK. In Tirol for four years.

6. Beware of the Devil

Perchten in Breitenbach (c) Alpbachtal Seenland

The first year I was here, I got dragged out from the kitchen on St Nicholas Day, thrown outside in the snow and slapped by a bunch of strangers dressed as devils. My husband’s whole family just watched and laughed! Turns out it was just Krampus, the evil sidekick of St Nicholas (see above) who keeps badly-behaved children in line.

– Kate from London, UK. In Tirol for 27 years.

7. Christmas trees = fire hazards

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For me, one of the strangest things is that Austrians still decorate their Christmas trees with candles. What if they catch on fire? In the US, it would be a lawsuit waiting to happen! I think I’ll stick to fairy lights myself.

– John, from Ohio, USA. In Tirol for 4 years.

8. Everything tastes like cinnamon

Christmas in Tirol has a very distinct taste: cinnamon. Everything has a festive flavour to it, from the cinnamon-enthused mulled wine to the delicious Christmas cookies. If you walk around the Christmas markets you can almost smell it!

tima from Basque Country, Spain. In Tirol for three years.

9. Surprisingly austere Christmas dinners

Considering Advent in Tirol is filled with Glühwein and cookies, you’d expect Christmas dinner to be a feast of epic proportions. But on Christmas Eve, people suddenly become very sensible: most families I know like to just eat a light noodle and sausage soup. Definitely one of the least indulgent Tirolean Christmas traditions!

– John, from Ohio, USA. In Tirol for 4 years.

10. A White Christmas is a real possibility

In England, everyone dreams about a White Christmas — one with real snow. It hardly ever happens. But here, there’s always at least a chance of snowflakes falling from the sky. And even if it doesn’t fall, you can always pop up to the nearest ski resort to find some. There’s really nothing like celebrating Christmas in the snow-covered mountains.

– Tom from Lewes, UK. In Tirol for 15 years.

11. The Three Kings might mess up your door

Just when you think the crazy Christmas traditions are over, who comes knocking on your door on the 6th January asking for money but the Three Wise Men! They even mess up your front door with a message written in chalk ( C+M+B, which stands for the Latin phrase “Christus Mansionem Benedicat, meaning “May Christ Bless this Home”).

– Kate from London, UK. In Tirol for 27 years.

12. Christmas is far less commercialised

Christmas in Alpbach | Photo Credits: Alpbachtal Seenland / Bernhard Berger

What really strikes me about Christmas here is that is much more traditional than other countries. It feels very much about the atmosphere: about good times spent with family and friends. All the decorations look very traditional and homemade. In Portugal, things have become more about spending money on gifts or bright, sparkly decorations. But here it feels more genuine, more real.

– Carlos from Porto, Portugal. In Tirol for six months.

 

Photo Credits: Tirol Werbung

Mary

Ski and outdoor journalist Mary Creighton swapped the flatlands of the UK for the mountains of Tirol and couldn’t be happier about it. You’ll most likely find her knee-deep in snow exploring a new ski resort or ducking into an Alm to taste the local cuisine.

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