It is the 18th of December. We just had the ‘Gaudete Sunday’, which is the 3rd Sunday before Advent and this week the shops and businesses are already closing down for the holidays. My dentist disappeared on Monday, the opticians closed until January today. But the tourists are here in great numbers. It is predicted that around 8 million people will visit Vienna for the Christmas markets. It’s especially a tradition from the neighbouring countries: Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
With typical Austrian precision, the net worth of all these visitors to the Austrian economy has been calculated: an average spend per person at the Christmas markets of 22 euro making a contribution of 200 million in total. Danke schoen. 🙂
Meanwhile Birnham Wood has come to the city. In 293 locations over the city: a small patch of pavement, wide entrance to a church, at the side of a markt or a road junction the Christmas tree sellers are plying their trade, as they have done for around 200 years.
Again, in true Austrian, regulatory fashion it’s all sold according to measurements (€/metre): Spruce 4,- to 8,- Blue Spruce 7,- to 14,- Fir 10,- bis 35,-). The hundreds of sales areas mean that most Viennese live with tree-schlepping distance – 570,000 sales are predicted. After Christmas the trees are schlepped back to the point of sale and, rather forlornly wait there for a few days until they are collected and taken away to be made into sawdust .
Who first introduced the Christmas tree to Vienna is debateable. There are those who maintain it was Fanny von Arnstein, a salonniere from a wealthy Jewish banking family. She came from northern Germany, as did Henriette of Nassau-Weilburg, who married an Austrian Archduke and thus introduced the protestant Christmas tree to the Habsburg court. This North German custom of decorating a tree was unknown in deeply Catholic Austria, where the traditional way of celebrating Christmas in the home was usually with a nativity scene in a carved crib.
Every year there is an exhibition of cribs in the crypt of the St Peter’s church in the centre of Vienna in November/December and it is well worth a visit.