When I was six years old, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a Christmas with my relatives in Austria—my Oma and Opa (grandmother and grandfather) on my mother's side of the family and my uncle Christian, my mother's younger brother. Unlike the American's, whose main celebration of Christmas is on the twenty fifth of December, the Austrian's is on the twenty fourth, on Christmas Eve. There is a long tradition they hold to that says that the Christkindl (The Christ Child) comes to Earth on the twenty fourth of December and that is the reason they celebrate on that eve. Saint Nicholas, or as they call him in Austria, Niklaus, actually comes before Christmas, either on the fifth, or the sixth of December with his opponent the devil, known as Krampus. Together they come to the villager's doors and ask the children whether they have been good or bad during the year. If the child says they were good, Niklaus may reward them with a small token, such as an apple, orange, cookie or some nuts. If the child says that they were bad, Krampus will try to catch and spank him or her. This may sound politically incorrect, but to the Austrians, its all in good fun and Niklaus will send the child running before Krampus has a chance to get them. Unfortunately, I missed this part of the holiday event because I didn't arrive in Austria until the week before Christmas. Even so, my mother has filled me in on how fun this tradition was for her as a child.
Waking up Christmas Eve morn, I can still faintly remember the sounds and the smells in the air. Oma and my mother were clanking around in the small kitchen down stairs, preparing the food for the day, and the smell of marzipan mingled together with ginger, allspice, and cinnamon filled my senses. Full of joyful wonder, I got up and headed down the narrow, old, squeaky staircase of my grandparent's small Vienna flat— half way down, I could see the living room, and with great bewilderment, I looked for the Christmas tree, but it was nowhere to be found—even a few days earlier, I had wondered why there wasn't one up, but with all the excitement of being somewhere different for the holidays, I had forgotten to bring it up. I went into the kitchen and asked my mother why there was no Christmas tree. My mother conversed with my Oma in German, and then in English, said to me, "Go now and get dressed. We could use your help in here." I decided not to pursue asking about the tree, seeing how busy they were, making marzipan, ginger cookies, and a very strong, brandy soaked, ladyfinger and whip cream cake. Later on that day, I was glad that I didn't, because after coming home in the evening from doing some last minute shopping with my uncle Christian, my sister and I were pleasantly surprised to see, standing in the small dark living room, a beautiful Christmas tree set aglow with real candles on its branches and under it toys for my sister and I. I never questioned my mother about why the tree was put up so late in the holiday until I was an adult and that is when I found out that it is tradition for the Austrians to put the tree up without the children knowing, as late as possible on Christmas Eve. The children are sent out to play, or do errands, and then when they return in the evening, they are surprised with a tree and unwrapped presents under it.
Today, my Oma and Opa are no longer with us, but I will never forget the special, cozy Christmas I was able to spend with them—as a matter of fact, I still have a gift, a cute, cuddly, stuffed, little, yellow lion with a red and white ribbon (the Austrian flag colors) tied in a bow around its neck, a present that my Oma had hand made and gave to me that Christmas Eve more then thirty something years ago.
By Victoria Simcox
Victoria, known as Vicki, was born in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, to an Austrian immigrant mother, and a Dutch immigrant father. She has one older sister. When she was 7, Vicki moved with her family to British Columbia. Then in her early twenties to Western Washington, where she now resides in Marysville WA. She has been married for almost 20 years, and has 3 children. For the past 10 years, she has home schooled her children, and she also teaches elementary school art. Her other family members are, a Chihuahua, named Pipsy, 2 cats, named Frodo and Fritz, and 1 parakeet, named Pauly. She did have a pet rat named Raymond; when she started writing The Magic Warble, but sad to say, he has since passed away of old age. Vicki enjoys writing, reading, painting watercolors, good movies and just hanging out with friends and family. Her favorite author is C.S. Lewis, and one of her fondest memories is when she was 12. She would sit at the kitchen table, and read the Chronicles of Narnia to her mother while she cooked dinner. These magical stories were very dear to Vicki, and she remembers wishing, If only I could go to Narnia like Lucy and Susan. Vicki hopes that maybe she can touch someone with her story in a similar way.
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