christmas in st. gilgen, austria
why did i choose to spend christmas time at austria’s wolfgangsee? well, by the beginning of autumn, we hadn’t heard any talk of visitors so i thought it would be a great idea to experience an alpine christmas somewhere. austria, with its close proximity to southern czech republic fit the bill perfectly, especially the salzkammergut area (lake and alpine region near salzburg), which is closer to us than tirol or the other famous alpine regions of the country. we booked a sweet family-owned hotel and christmas was planned!
it only took two and a half hours to get to st. gilgen from budějovice (mostly because our driver flew like a bat out of hell) so we had almost the entire first day to just walk around the sleepy village and explore it. and ohhhh, i knew immediately i had chosen correctly! such a sweet little dorf with something eye-catching around every corner.
we got a hot tip from our kind innkeeper annalise that there would be a christmas eve town event held in the church the next day. i wasn’t exactly sure what this would be, but i would be pleased with anything. above all, i just wanted to experience a traditional austrian christmas! the event turned out to be a nativity play with the local kids dressed up as shepherds or kings, narrated by the priest, and sprinkled with a host of german, english, and even a spanish christmas carol. any traditional event with music and i am there, so being here in the church with the wolfgangsee locals listened to and singing these songs put a huge smile on my face the whole time, especially when they ended with feliz navidad. never did i think i would be listening to this song being performed in a small village in austria on christmas eve!
afterwards, everyone flooded into the nearby cemetery (which used to be a cloister), everyone lit candles on the headstones of their loved ones, and a brass band played four or five rounds of silent night. it was not lost on me that only mere miles away, silent night was first written and performed 196 years ago. a good moment to reflect on christmas. so we went back to our room (and found that annalise had brought us a mini-christmas tree, awww) to start our feast and open presents. (below, crowds gathered outside of the church listening to the band)
before booking this trip, i was well aware from past travels in austria and germany that nothing would really be open during these christmas days, but i had expected there would be at least one restaurant in the town serving on christmas eve. welp, i thought wrong, but fortunately we had brought a TON of food and snacks with us… and even some dishware– one thing we’ve learned from the czechs who often bring all of their own food with them! there was vanočka (czech christmas bread), alaskan smoked sockeye salmon, a wheel of brie, crackers, cookies, mince pies, and a bottle of wine. having a feast in the room was actually really fun! then we gave polar express a try, which i am convinced is snowpiercer for kids. (who agrees?)
actual christmas day brought us absolutely miserable wet and windy weather, so the only time we left the hotel was to have a fancy schmancy christmas day dinner out at haus am hang. because it’s the kind of place that take your coat for you, but because i keep my camera in my coat pocket/am lazy,i have no pictures of the delightful meal they served us, but it was incredible… a definite cut above the rest! we felt like kings dining on seared tuna steaks, sea bass, lobster bisque, and creme brulee. i had never seen the original miracle on 34th street until christmas night, but it was fantastic… one of my favorite christmas films in a long time. who’s seen it?
there must have been some christmas magic brewing that night, because the next morning, most of central europe awoke in what seemed like a snow globe. it began snowing that morning after christmas and didn’t stop for days! a christmas miracle.
spending the holidays in austria was an excellent idea, and i really cherished being in a small town for them rather than a big city. i also enjoyed witnessing austrian christmas traditions, like hearing the innkeeper and her family in the hall blessing the house with incense while saying a prayer on christmas eve– something i learned about from this rick steves’ christmas special but had no idea it was so widely practiced! i even liked how everything was closed so people could go home to be with their families. it seemed right.