Posted by: Nazausgraben | December 23, 2018


Greetings from Pinswang where the icy pitch of this snow bedecked December Advent night covers our valley. Let me begin by describing how it is here at during this beautiful Advent season. Our house has some outdoor decorations. Wreathes that Susi made are attached to the house front entrance door as well as the gates leading to our driveway. Folks here do not create forests of light and there are no waving Santa Claus figures perched in the yard or atop our house. However, the electric candles of the season are alight on our lower and upper balcony railings giving those at a distance the impression that they are seeing an airport runway tipped on its side.

It’s inside that one begins to see the symbols of Christmas to come slowly taking form. The trees in all their quickly drying out splendor are perched precariously in their stands awaiting a plethora of decorated balls both large and small, electric bulbs, miniscule wooden figures…some sans an arm or angels wing, heartfelt gifts from dear ones so far away…all of this will soon be hanging by thin metal hooks from the sagging, overloaded, over-ornamented branches which with every breath, lose a handful more of the preciously few and fewer needles that at one time graced this proud whatever green.

The empty Christmas crèche (Krippe) stands in its wooden base, the moss collected months ago from the steep rain damp forest mountainsides covering only a portion of the landscape surrounding the rustic wooden barn in which the Holy Family with the Christ Child are soon to appear. The ox and ass are laying on their sides, oblivious to the masses of small wood carved sheep grazing seemingly unperturbed on the hard wood base. In a day or two, the entire area will be covered in moss and soggy, moshy grass that one can gather from underneath the endless fields of snow outside. Where ersatz grass and dried moss fail to suffice, the empty areas will be covered with large rocks, simulating…well…large rocks. Detritus from plants now living in the warmth of our window sills can fill in the small areas to hide the spaces between the barn and its wooden base. Branches of various bushes from outdoors will be gathered and placed into holes bored into small wooden blocks located about the periphery of the barn. These will be the ersatz trees which, looking little like trees, will, after a couple of days, likely sag, fall over and, in general, look like the unfortunate discarded bush branches that they are.

One challenge will be how to light the barn, for ambient light must be kept at a minimum when visitors come to partake of what is known as ‘Krippelaschauen’…literally looking at the Christmas crèche. This is a wonderful tradition practiced between St. Stephen’s day on 26 December until as late as Maria Licht-Messe (Candle Mass, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord) on 2 February. Although many visitors will spend some minutes in awe as they survey the wonders of one’s masterwork Krippe (and some of them here really are remarkable works of art wrought by Masters of their Krippe building craft), most will look to the left and right, abut behind the Krippe, smile, comment briefly on how nice it looks and then with bated breath, await the much-anticipated invitation to partake in the traditional ‘Gloria Wasser’ (Gloria Water)…a polite name for schnapps.

It’s a fascinating experience to make the rounds on a day or evening of Krippelaschauen. One starts off with a joyful seriousness, looking at every intricate detail and spending what feels like an hour commenting on the fine craftsmanship of the figures, the buildings, landscape and lighting, making the builder very proud indeed; so much so that not extending an invitation ´for a spot of Gloria Wasser’ would be at best a social faux pas and at worst could (in my case) incite a major international incident. By the end of such an evening, the Krippe are all looking alike, details are eschewed, one becomes unable to discern between Josef and Balthasar and the mere ability to get into the host’s home becomes sufficient grounds to warrant yet another bout of Gloria Wasser. The next day those surviving this tradition may proudly boast to having seen five or six Krippe whilst a neighbor will try to top that with seven or more. All will nod in unsaid understand that it is not the number of Krippe viewed, but the number of Gloria Wassers consumed which will generate such esteemed wonderment; that anyone can at all stand erect and speak with any level of erudition after having ‘seen’ seven or more Krippe is certainly a feat to be recognized with either a modicum of respect or an heaping portion of disapproval. The former is most often evident within the circle of male comrades whilst the second may indeed be characteristic of their female better halves.

The Advent wreathes that one finds in almost every home will have all four candles lit when guests sit with their hosts in the informal dining area of the home. Known as the Stube, this is where families may eat their daily meals, entertain close friends and in general, sit on the corner benches (Eckbank) and matching wooden chairs about a large wooden table. The room will typically be made warm with enclosed wood burning ovens (Kachelofen). The sizes and shapes of the ovens may vary. We have a ‘traditional’ older oven which was created when our house was built at the beginning of the last century. Ceramic tiles surround an intricate set of tunnels which channel the heat from the burning wood throughout the oven. The tiles heat and provide steady warmth for many hours. The ash and soot ascend into an exhaust pipe that feeds into the house chimney. In earlier times, there would be wooden slats about the oven upon which snow or rain drenched wet clothes could be hung out to dry. There may have been wide benches which could be made into beds where the children or grandparents might sleep next to the oven.

The wreath will be aglow at the table center. Guests will sip piping hot spiced wine (Glühwein) and demolish entire trays of delectable sweets of the season; cookies, pastries, chocolates in various forms, Christmas cake (Stollen) and Christmas fruit and nut Bread (Zeltenbrot). Naturally, all of this comes with the consequence that calories abound and quickly make their presence known as we for some unexplainable reason feel the need to weigh ourselves precisely during a season where this practice of self-debasement should be outlawed. The word ‘Diet’ is stricken from daily conversation…at least until the departure of the Three Kings and their entourage who will be visiting each home on Heilige Drei Königstag (Epiphany) on 6 January.

In all, this time of Advent is spent in a mostly subdued sense of anticipation as we await the birth of Our Lord. There are fare fewer displays and lights decorating homes here than one sees in the US or the UK. Still, the spirit of the season abounds with glorious music, works of art, moving Masses and other religious ceremonies. So it is here in Pinswang. We last week performed our annual Adventsingen at the village Church of St. Ulrich. There were the debuts of a splendid zither trio and newly created male vocal quartet. There was also a trio of excellent women’s voices as well as folk music and brass instrumental ensembles. Our priests, Fathers Simon and Gregor introduced the evening and at the close blessed all those attending and performing. Such local Adventsingen are held throughout Austria, some smaller and some grander and highly professional. Whatever the circumstance, it is a moving and highly meaningful way to celebrate Advent.

I hope that wherever you might be that you and yours have a Blessed Advent and Christmas season and a healthy, happy new year to come.



Posted by: Nazausgraben | December 24, 2017

Es ist Advent

The Advent and Christmas seasons here are, at least to me, the loveliest of all the year’s celebrations. The weeks leading up to Christmas day are all so quiet…the overall pace of life noticeably slows somewhat. The gray cold cloud bedecked days with the occasional flurry segues into a chilled darkness that descends so early. Yet, even when the flurries turn into wind-driven blizzards, all remains quiet. You can hear the snow fall, faintly but distinct as it becomes visible for but a moment in the street lamps and lights of passing vehicles. This is the best time of day to don multiple layers and head out, to explore when but a few intrepid others are about.

A walk to the village center (a small plot with an ancient stone fountain from which the cows can drink and rest in the Summer grasses in the shade of a mighty elm) reveals the lights lining the saddle top roof of the hut (the Glühweinstandl’) where hot spiced wine, punch and other drinkables and edible delicacies of the season are purveyed. Manned by two young members of the (appropriately) Young Farmers Association, the Glühweinstandl’ has become one of those timeless icons here in Pinswang that simply must be at this time each year. It is as much a part of the Christmas season here as is the lovely Nativity scene in Tirolean style displayed on a side altar within the St. Ulrich’s Church, the beloved concert of seasonal music performed by local musicians every third Advent Sunday evening, the so-called ‘Wald Advent’ where the doors of some storage barns (located at the edge of a forest that divides Lower and Upper Pinswang) are opened and children from the village play Christmas carols whilst a host of villagers gather to enjoy the ever so tasty hot Glühwein (red or white depending on the grapes you prefer), fresh pork sausages, roasted chestnuts and Christmas cookies…all outside in the frosted breath chill of a December Winter’s night. Thus the stoic few gather at the Glühweinstandl’ discuss the few minor local scandals, laugh at jokes (which, when told in machinegun paced dialect, sound to me more like an unintelligible mix of Finnish and Rätoromanisch and therefore impossible to  understand) and shake heads in dismay over the absurd socio-politico-cultural madnesses that dominate the world outside of our end of the valley. The moments imbibing the hot spicy drink come to an end, and it is time to move on, for staying any longer might subject one to an offer of yet another cup of the steaming elixir. The warmth it provides on such a brisk night is welcome, but the side effects of its substance are best avoided by those like myself not accustomed to partaking in the manner of those for whom such drinks are but sweetly flavored water.

Our village church of St. Ulrich is the next stop. Located on the highest hill in Pinswang, one struggles to remain upright in the decidedly minus temperatures and icy path underfoot. Having attained the sacred heights before the church entrance, one can turn to the left and see the lovely Christmas tree alight in the surrounding pitch. To the right is the village Krippe; the nativity scene with its large hand carved wooden figures of the infant Jesus Mary and  Joseph. The scene is housed in a large wooden hut surrounded underfoot by seasonal greens. Turning to the right, we enter into the darkness of St. Ulrichs with the only sources of light being those of small votive candles and of the street lamps illuminating the exterior of the church; the latter causing vast arch- and cross-shaped shadows of the tall glass window frames to be seen stretching across the church walls and fading into the gloom. To the right is one of the two side altars. Atop the flat marble table-like surface is a very large and highly detailed Nativity scene. It was built a few years ago by one of our neighbors here in Pinswang. The centerpiece is a house constructed in Tirolean style. It is lit from within and next to the house entrance is a tiny lamp, also lit by an even tinier bulb. The house is surrounded by fields, a pond, hills and trees (all in miniature, of course). The background is a massive painting of the mountain range surrounding our valley. Hand carved wooden sheep, peasants and travelers are all depicted, as are the innkeeper, Mary and Joseph standing at the front entrance of the remarkably detailed house. Clearly the innkeeper is telling the holy pair that there is no room within. On the third Advent Sunday, one can return the Nativity scene and see that the façade of the house has been removed to reveal a lovely (and again, highly detailed) interior. There one now sees Mary and Joseph kneeling by an empty food trough that will soon become a cradle. It is at Midnight Mass that the figure of the baby Jesus can be seen in the cradle. No matter how often I visit the side altar to see this wondrous work, I am always taken by the time, effort, devotion and love put into its creation.

Leaving St. Ulrich’s, one can peer down the hill into the embracing night, seeing the even darker silhouettes of homes, farmhouses and the distant village inn, windows alight with candles and Christmas decorations. A walk down the hill from the church and a quick left turn quickly leads one to the ancient Via Claudia Augustus, the ancient Roman Road; merely a dirt, gravel and grass path that for centuries has been trodden by villagers, pilgrims, sellers of goods and soldiers headed into war. Walking this path this cold night, crunching into the snow, one passes the Earschbach, a biotope pond that is all that remains of the vast and rather nasty wetlands that covered this entire area during the times when the Celts and Romans called this valley home. From here, one can look back across the farmer’s fields toward the village center, the Glühweinstandl’, the St. Ulrich’s Church, the homes where families will soon be exchanging gifts, singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night) next to their Christmas trees and small Nativity scenes and then heading to St. Ulrich’s for Midnight Mass. With all of this in mind on this most holy night, our thoughts turn to family and friends, some nearby and others so far away.

Dear reader, Susi and I send you and your family all of our heartfelt wishes for a Blessed Christmas and a safe, happy and healthy New Year to come!

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