Christmas in Austria is the time of year when family members get together for hours of quiet and thoughtful celebration. The Christmas tree plays a most important part. Every town sets up its own huge tree on the main square and frequently there will be an extra one, adorned with bread crumbs, for the birds. In families, it is usually the father of the house who selects the tree and decorates it with gold and silver or sometimes colored balls, tinsel, sweets and candy wrapped in tin foil, gilded nuts, etc. Electric Christmas lights are not too popular throughout Austria and in most homes candles are used. Candles are also placed in windows as a symbolic Christmas greeting to those absent from home and in commemoration of deceased family members. On Christmas Eve, all the shops close by six P.M. There are no movie or theater performances and no concerts. Bars, restaurants, night clubs are likewise closed and traffic is almost nonexistent. Around seven P.M. on Christmas Eve (December 24), the tree is lighted for the first time and the whole family gathers to sing Christmas carols. “Silent Night, Holy Night,” written on December 24, 1818, by Josef Mohr in the Austrian village of Oberndorf, is still the favorite Christmas carol. Presents are placed unwrapped under the tree and young children belieye that they were brought to them-as a reward for good behavior-by Knecht Ruprecht or by the Christ-child (Christkind). Knecht Ruprecht closely resembles Santa Claus with his long white beard, red coat, heavy boots, and his reindeer-drawn sleigh. After all gifts have been inspected, the family sits down to the traditional Christmas dinner, consisting of fish soup, carp, and potato salad, as well as Sacher cake for dessert. At midnight it is customary, especially in the country, to attend Christmas Mass.
Christmas Eve is followed by two more Christmas holidays, which are spent in a gayer mood, visiting relatives and friends.