Tradition and “Joie de Vivre” in the Vienna’s Christmas markets – World Meanderings (n°05)
Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
The first Christmas markets took place in Central Europe during the 14th century. In those days they were called St Nicholas’ Markets and lasted a few days before Christmas until the midnight mass. During the 16th century the Reformation intended to banish all Catholic traditions and particularly the cult of the saints. So the St Nicholas’ markets were renamed “Christkindlmarkt”: the Baby Christ Markets. They still are called this way today in all German-speaking Europe.
There are at least 5 Christmas Markets in Vienna this year, each one with its own character, but in all of them you will be able to share joyful moments with your family. The festivities began on November the 15th by the lighting of the Christmas tree in the Rathausplatz Christkindlmarkt taking place on the City Hall Square right in the city centre. This tree is the traditional centrepiece of the market and is a symbol of the solidarity between South Tyrol where the tree was cut down and the City of Vienna. It is approximately 140 years old and 28 meters high and the hundreds of Christmas decorations make it look magnificent. Until December 24th over 150 wooden houses are turned into small shops where handicrafts, Christmas decorations, candies, hot drinks are on display.
To get in a “Christmas’ mood” choirs from Austria, several European countries and the US will perform for free at the “International Advent Carols” in the Festival Hall of the City Hall. Various wind ensembles from all over Austria will play music next to the huge Christmas tree. To avoid getting frozen while listening to the songs don’t miss to taste the “Christkindlmarkt Punsh”: a hot punch made with a special blend chosen among 20 different punch varieties by blind testing. It is made with red wine, oranges, spices, rum and unknown ingredients. The recipe is a well-kept secret! You will be able to buy bottles of this special Christmas Punch to take home and share some of the Viennese spirit with your friends.
If you want to make special Christmas and New year greeting cards go to the “Post Office in the Clouds”; set in one of the wooden chalet this ephemeral post office presents stamps and postmarks especially created for Christmas time. A very special mail for a stamp collector!
The second not to be missed Christmas Market is located in the famous Schonbrunn Palace. It was the former summer residence of the Austria-Hungary Emperors and is a very popular tourist attraction not only because of its huge rococo palace but also by its gigantic gardens. Every year since 1994 a Christmas Market is set in the main courtyard of the castle. This market promotes Austrian folklore with traditional handicraft, handmade Christmas decorations, unusual gifts as well as food and drinks to keep you warm. The Christmas Market is followed by a New Year’s Market from December 27th till January 1st 2015: a wide range of exciting activities are planned to keep the children busy while you can have a punch and a Viennese “hot-dog” made with local sausages and listen to the jazz music played by live bands.
If you happen to be in Vienna on January the first you will be able to party until 2 am in the New Year’s Eve Village located for one day in the Maria Theresa Square next to the National Gallery of Arts.
An old style Christmas market is located in the former aristocratic district of the Freyung in the city centre. In there handicraftsmen will teach you how to make your own Christmas wreath. And if you want more imperial atmosphere go to one more Christmas market in the Belvedere Palace and enjoy its romantic gardens.
After visiting those Imperial Palaces you might be in the mood for a glamorous experience and stay at the “Palais Hansen Kempiski Hotel”. Set in a beautiful palace built in 1873 for the World Exhibition this 5 star hotel is located on the famous Ring Boulevard. Once inside everything and every person of the staff will make you feel in a nest of comfort and care. The big but amazingly cosy lobby is the perfect place for a cup of tea and one of their delicious cakes. Of course the rooms are elegant and beautifully furnished and an iPad entertainment system is available in each one allowing you to order room service, to control the air conditioning, to get information on spa treatments or restaurant menu and wine list, to check the weather forecast and plenty more. You may even find the recipe of the cake you ate at diner! There are two restaurants where the Chef Phillip Vogel has already gotten his first Michelin star and 15 Gault Millau points. Having diner in one of them after pacing up and down the streets of the Christmas Markets will be a top experience in Vienna.
Text © Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Photos © Frederic de Poligny