Rick Steves’ European Christmas: Austria


Now we cross the border
into Austria to the town that to me
always feels like Christmas: Salzburg. With its old town gathered
under its formidable castle, Salzburg celebrates
the holidays with an Alpine elegance. [ Horseshoes clopping ] Christmas-y shopping lanes
delight browsers. Markets are busy
as shoppers gather last-minute
holiday decorations and perhaps a fresh
sprig of mistletoe. [ Gunshots ] These Tyroleans
celebrate the season in noisier
fashions as well. [ Gunshot ] From the castle ramparts,
high above town, traditional gunners
fire away as they have since the days
when they really believed these shots would scare away
evil spirits. [ Gunshots ] Salzburg, nicknamed
the Rome of the North, has a magnificent
cathedral inspired by St. Peter’s
at the Vatican. Locals here in the town
of Mozart pack the place to mix worship
with glorious music. [ Orchestra playing;
Choir singing ] [ Bells chiming
“Silent Night” ] It was here, in the
region of Salzburg that the most loved carol of
the Christmas season, “Silent Night,” was
sung for the first time nearly two
hundred years ago. According to legend,
a local priest went out one Christmas night
to bless a newborn baby. As he walked home in the snow,
he was so moved by the stillness of the starlit
and holy night that he wrote a poem
about it. He gave the poem
to Franz Gruber, the organist in his church,
who composed a simple tune. On Christmas Eve,
1818, the carol was sung
for the first time accompanied only
by a guitar. [ Plucks introductory notes ] Both:
♪ Stille nacht ♪ ♪ Heilige nacht ♪ ♪ Alles schläft…♪ Austria is one of Europe’s
more traditional corners. Its strong Catholicism
and love of heritage shine especially brightly at Christmastime
in the countryside. ♪ …Hochheilige Paar ♪ ♪ Holder knabe ♪ ♪ Im lockigen Haar ♪ We’re visiting
the Weissacher family farm. A typically Tyrolean
Christmas yodel offers us the warmest
of welcomes. [ Group singing
in harmony ] Rick:
“Sehr schön, danke.” “Frohe Weihnachten!
Kommt herein, bitte.” This family happily shares
its love of the season with a guest. Like just about anywhere, part of Christmas is making
cookies with grandma. More unique to Austria
is this ritual in which the dad blesses
the home with incense as his daughter follows
with holy water. The prayer is for a healthy
and happy new year. Maria teaches her daughters
how the advent wreath marks the four weeks
of advent: The season
of preparation leading to the advent
or arrival of Jesus. Ancient peoples were
the first wreath makers. For Christians,
that evergreen circle came to symbolize
everlasting life. The candles, one
for each week, reminded them that the birth
of their savior was approaching. Austrians lovingly
decorate their tree, but keep it secret and
hidden from the children until December 24
arrives. We’ll check back
a little later to see what
Christmas brings.

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