NO CITY ON EARTH gets into Christmas like Vienna. Fairy lights spring on, store owners pull out their trees, and something like 25 Christmas Markets—an unnecessarily huge number for a city of under 2 million—open colourful displays of strudels, pretzels, donuts and chocolate. It is a veritable winter wonderland, and it isn’t even December. I found it fascinating because you could simply never get away with that shit in, say, Toronto, where some combination of Jewish, Sikh, Tamil, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist groups would protest political correctness.
Here are some observations in no special order; individually they are trivial holiday gestures, so you have to imagine witnessing all of them in a single afternoon everywhere you go with no escape.
- By the third week of November, when the Christmas Markets open in cobblestone alleys and before the city’s grandest churches, pretty much everyone in the city flocks to them after work and drinks mulled wine (glühwein) and warm fruit liquors (pünsch) until they close at 10. The crowds are thick and the air heavy with the smell of citrus, frankincense and cinnamon.
- Robot Christmas rock bands of angels are set up to play, on mechanical repeat, carols for small children who push the big red “PLAY” button, like a religious outdoor Chuck E. Cheese.
- Some people dress up in wool hats and sweaters of red and green without seeming to realize that they are Christmas colours.
- Vienna has no shortage of gargantuan gothic churches, and each erects banners wishing the city a merry Christmas, whether they like it or not.
- On the streets, chestnuts literally roast on open fires.
- If you want to buy a small wooden carving of the nativity scene, you never have to walk farther than two block sat any given point between the train station and the river.
- Giant novelty pretzels of apple cinnamon or chocolate, topped with powdered sugar and rainbow sprinkles, can be commonly found in the markets; they make for a terrific snack between three people, and a horrible lunch for one. (Ugh.)
- Shops offer not only Advent Calendars of not only chocolate, but also Rocket-like hard candies, which is maybe a thing you goys already know, but I’ve never seen before.
- Krampus, the Germanic demon known for kidnapping naughty children and dragging them to hellin early December, is almost as common as Jesus, Santa and the Pope, which is ironic because the government of Austria, from 1934 until the mid-50s, legally banned Krampus from the Christmas tradition. For some reason (dark magic?) people liked the story enough that the demon lore is still popular. In the words of Taco from The League: “It’s a Krampus miracle.”