Getting on the phone and contacting people about how they’re going to spend their Christmas has been an interesting experience, to say the least. I called two Austrian and one non-Austrian about how they plan to spend the festive season this year.
Getting on the phone and contacting people about how they’re going to spend their Christmas has been an interesting experience to say the least. I called two Austrian and one non-Austrian about how they plan to spend the festive season this year.
“Krampus used to scare the hell out of me,” Lukas tells me as he sits on a comfortable lounge chair at his family’s home in Salzburg whilst I am walking home with 20km per hour wind on my face. Although the gust of wind plays havoc with the microphone Lukas assures that he can hear me well.
He continues, “I used to hide under the bed when I was eight. I was so afraid he would get me, and most of the time he did. I got some wicked bruises from his sticks that he used to hit little kids with.”
As I lament whether I should call Child Protective Services on the entirety of the Alpine region the subject is changed to what Christmas is going to be like this year. Lukas begins first whilst enjoying a warm glass of Punsch, whilst I enjoy a runny nose and frozen toes.
He lives close to the lakes and, as the sun rises so late in winter, he wakes to the sunrise over the peaks of the mountains, reflecting a shimmering gold from the lake beneath.
Domplatz, located in the old city of Salzburg is where the sweet Christmas treats, and the scent of spiced wine combine to create a warming Christmas atmosphere. Also, incidentally this is where the best spot for warming yourself on a cold clear night in the land of lakes and mountains.
Lukas’s grandmother is a chef at a hotel in the region and will bake, along with the rest of the family, an assortment of baked goods, but most typical is the crescent shaped biscuit covered in white powdered sugar, Vanillekipferl.
This year, due to the ongoing pandemic, the hotel will not be accepting guests, so the biscuits are baked in their large 10-person kitchen with the whole family and then enjoyed in the dining room.
He wishes me a merry Frohe Weihnachten, and I return this with a Feliz Navidad, until the call ends a moment later. Jakub
Jakub is on a train to Linz, but this is not his destination. He will change trains to go to the town of Krems an der Donau where his parents will pick him up and take him to a smaller village deeper into the countryside.
An Austrian-born Polish 21-year-old, doesn’t usually go to Upper Austria for Christmas but to his family’s home in Eastern Poland. This year Jakub’s father, who works and lives in Upper Austria and was unable to travel back to Poland because he was caught speeding and his license taken away.
As a result, Poland is coming to Austria with all the comforts of home. Jars of fruit jam, juices (some with interesting flavour combinations like carrot and orange), and lots of pierogi and sour cream.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he tells me, and although we are on the phone, I can tell he’s drinking wine because I hear the clink and sip through the receiver.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them and honestly, we’re going to spend most of it inside. So, its like there will be a little piece of Poland in Austria this Christmas,” he jokes.
Jakub told me that although the situation was a new, he was looking forward to spending, and although it was different, he was relieved it was happening at all.
“With the way things are going this year,” he continued “I’m happy to be able to do it at all, so many people I know who are living abroad are just staying where they are.”
The phone is cracking due to bad signal, but I still manage to make out what she’s said, “I’m not going home for Christmas this year.”
She continues, “The pandemic has gotten bad this winter again and I’m afraid of how long I’ll be stuck in the UK if Austria chooses to halt flights, you know? Like they did last year.”
Although she can’t see it, I nod my head in agreement and send her my sympathies and remember how hard it was returning form the UK myself in the Christmas panic of 2020.
“So, me and the ‘not home for Christmas crew’ are staying in Vienna for the holidays. It will be different but exciting and at least I’ll be with people, not my family but really it will be with a family.”
Hesitant over what to say next I simply give a confirming noise to signal that I’ve understood and try to look at the bright side of things by saying that it will all make a good chapter in her autobiography and the experience of being away will have some silver lining at some point.
She tells me that this Christmas she’ll spend it walking, drinking, and laughing with her friends in the kitchen cooking. As I walk and listen, I can’t help but think how common her story is across the world this holiday season.