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Christmas in Austria

Day 6

AUSTRIA | Saturday, 24 December 2011 | Views [632]

Frohe Weihnachten!!

Merry Christmas! Today is the big holiday here in Austria. Today everything closes down around noon and everyone heads home for a big meal with the family. Most families also attend mass during the day/night at some point and then the family tree is normally revealed and lit up and gifts handed out. There is not really a Santa Claus here the way he is known in North America. He came with small gifts on Dec. 6 for St. Nicholas Day. He is known for bringing tidings and food for the poor here rather than fulfilling every child's monstrous Christmas list. On Christmas eve most celebrate the Christ child. He is not placed in the nativity until Christmas eve and he is the one who brings the lit tree and presents that are presented to kids on this day. Most children receive a few small things and marzipan fruit or animals.

This morning was rainy and cool. Due to the rain all night, all of our snow is gone!! It is supposed to snow tonight though and for the next two days. Due my Oberndorf tour booked this afternoon I had limited time today. I decided to head to the Hohensalzburg fortress. Despite the clouds I was able to get some good photos. More importantly I timed my visit so that I would be there around noon. The tradition  here is that men in Austrian traditional clothing fire old guns (like mini cannons) at noon in the fortress. This signifies the closing of business and the beginning of celebrations. I will attach the videos I took while there. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sxj_Uet3-5U&feature=youtu.be The men obviously enjoy this as they were all dressed in their finery with many of their family dressed up and there to watch. They all cleaned and polished their weapons with care and when the time came they loaded them with the gun powder. When they went off the entire fortress shook. It was unbelievably loud and I could not believe the men were still standing. This thousand year old fortress built up out of a mountain and the largest fully preserved fortress in Europe shook to its foundations every time someone fired. There were about 14 men and it was all choreographed by their leading officer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3J6_TY76Z8&feature=youtu.be It was really amazing. There were many people trying to get out to the terraces so after the first volley I decided to head back to the funicular and down to town. When crossing through the courtyard the second volley started. It was really astounding to hear the shots ring out and echo through the valley. You could almost imagine being besieged in the castle while outside forces clamoured at the walls and fired their weapons. It was a really neat experience. I took video of it but I don't know that it really comes close to what it was like. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGUDuxmhPkA&feature=youtu.be

Back at the bottom I headed to the Christmas market for a quick lunch on the go. Then it was back to the hotel to change and head out for my Oberndorf tour. While getting on the bus for the tour I ran into a couple of ladies I had met from the USA in Vienna on my tour there. I had told them about this and they had signed up when they reached Salzburg as well as the sleigh ride tour for tomorrow. We are going to have Christmas dinner tomorrow night together. It was a treat to have someone to talk to today. You don't realize how much you miss conversing in your own language with people until you suddenly have the opportunity. It was also nice to have someone to spend the tour with so I wasn't all on my own on Christmas eve.

Oberndorf is about 30min outside of Salzburg in the mountains. It is a small town that was once part of Salzburg's domain when it was an independent principality. When the Vienna Congress was signed after the Neapolitan wars, Salzburg was given to the Hapsburgs and was no longer independent. Oberndorf was a very rich city due to its ship building and salt trade and it was split in two by a river. After the congress, Oberndorf was given to the Hapsburgs as well and the other side of the river was given to Germany. It was a time of great political and social unrest. The assistant priest in Oberndorf had written Silent Night as six verses and gave it to the organist (also a local school teacher nearby. The school he taught in is still in use today as a school and is the oldest in all of Austria). He wanted him to come up with a melody for two singers, accompanied by a choir and played on a guitar. On Christmas eve in 1818 the music was written and the song performed for the first time. Some say the organ was broken but recent personal letters show that the author of the verses was given opposition to it being performed by the head priest who did not like him. The organist claims to have disabled the organ so it would not work and it was performed with the two men, a choir and a guitar. Our guide told us that he was told in school growing up that mice in the church broke it. Thus Silent Night was born and became one of the most well know Christmas Carols in the whole world, translated in 300 different languages and dialects.

Tonight there were about a thousand people gathered in the square around the little chapel. The story was told of Silent Night, a service was read (will post video), prayers and german christmas carols were sung by a choir and then at the end everyone sang silent night in their languages to a guitar. It was a beautiful clear cold winters evening. The stars were shining and I feel so very blessed to have been a part of it. It made me homesick a little bit for the family and friends I am missing during this season but it is an experience that can't quite be captured on film properly and fills ones heart and spirit to be a part of. You can also find the live web cam program that was filmed tonight if you look for the Oberndorf Silent Night chapel online.

I had my amazing dinner outlined in an earlier entry at the Stadtkrug tonight. It was such a wonderful meal and the restaurant was full of families out celebrating together. All evening the different bells from cathedrals have been ringing out announcing Christmas eve masses and celebrating the evening. I was going to head to the midnight mass in the main cathedral but have decided to skip it. I am really exhausted and have to be up early to meet my sleigh ride tour. So instead I am curled up in bed in my pjs catching up on the internet and watching the Sound of Music on TV.

Tomorrow is a 8hr tour day. It is an old fashioned horse drawn sleigh ride through the mountains to a little village where we will stop for a break at the Christmas market. Then we head out to the Dachstein the largest glacier in the alp system here. Apparently from the lookout you can see on a clear day into the Czech republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Germany all at different points. Then we head back down through a few little villages with stops for refreshments and some more markets, then back into Salzburg. Then I hope to be having dinner with my new friends at the Mozart dinner concert in the oldest restaurant in the world.


I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and to all of my friends and family wherever they may be I wish them all the very best and lots of love and laughter to fill the day.

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