Making Merry: Austrian/German traditions

Making Merry is our first guest series. Every Friday of Advent we'll hear from a lady about how she and her family make the Christmas season merry. This week Magdalena, my sister, shares about Austrian and German traditions. She's currently wrapping up a fall internship in Germany and is super lucky to be experiencing Weihnachten over there.


Growing up in a bilingual home has had quite a few lingering effects, but it is this time of the year that accentuates this fact the most. Maybe it’s the explosion of straw ornaments scattered around the house, or the advent wreath that takes over our dining room table shedding needles and wax. Either way, this is the time of year when our Austrian hearts shine brightest. With most of our extended family living on the other side of an ocean, holidays have emphasized this distance and often lead to an increased feeling of isolation. But thanks to our faithful Mama, we learned how to bring Austria to Michigan.

One precious treasure she gave us is our knowledge of German and Austrian Christmas songs. Instead of “We wish you a Merry Christmas,” we grew up belting out “traeralera” and counting down the days until Nikolausabend. Sure, Americans have heard about St. Nikolaus and the tradition of placing your boots in front of the door on December 5th, but were you ever visited by the man himself?? We were! Although mysteriously, our Papa always missed out and was absent every time the white bearded fellow arrived with his bag of goodies.

Anyone visiting us during this holiday would immediately be able to notice something different about our home. Maybe it was the homeschooling, or the farm we grew up on, but Advent also always correlated with one of the biggest crafting times of the year. Again thanks to Mama, I have a pretty decent knowledge of how to iron straw and craft it into a variety of stars, and then add that to my ability to fold colorful wax paper into window ornaments. In fact, I think the majority of our decorations were made by our own hands, which by the way is way more fun.

Living in Germany these past few months, I have waited eagerly for this first week of Advent to arrive, because I knew with the arrival of decorations in stores and Advent calendars being sold left and right, the Christmas markets would appear. I was not disappointed.

Wandering around the enchanting forest of lights and colors, I have never felt more at home so far from Michigan amid the familiar melodies, smells, and decorations. I’ve been to markets in Leipzig and Wittenberg, and I already plan to hit up as many as possible!

Even though, Europe is so secular, this love of markets and shopping shares the joys of Advent and Christmas, while focusing on family, fellowship, and Christ. Even if it’s indirect and perhaps mostly overlooked, Christianity is hard to overlook since most markets have a manger scene and an abundance of references to the birth of our Lord in form of music and ornaments. No Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, or Jolly Saint Nick to be found here. Instead you find beautiful paper stars to take home as a reminder of the star of Bethlehem.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget to share about the food. The menu definitely deserves a few words. Over half of the huts at these markets are completely devoted to providing the most wonderful comfort foods in the world. Bratwurst, Currywurst, pork roast, mushrooms, deep fried goodness, roasted nuts, gingerbread, crepes, and so much more! Last, but certainly not least, one of the biggest draws that these markets offer is the “Glühwein.” This spiced, mulled wine should be enough to lure any one of you to buy a ticket to Germany or Austria asap. Not only does it taste heavenly, but it also comes in a real mug! The Germans have developed a great system where you pay “Pfand” (deposit) for your mug when you buy a drink and when you’re done either you have it refilled or give it back to get your deposit back. Or if you’re me, you keep your mug as a memento of wonderful memory. The whole idea encourages lingering crowds warming their hands on real mugs and enjoying fellowship.

All this is what I will fondly remember about this delightful corner of the world, and yes, it really is as fantastic as the pictures make it seem. In fact it’s even better.


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