Posted by: Nazausgraben | January 22, 2011


We have had much snow…one storm after another…weeks of white cascading from gray skies that have covered much of the continent since November. Windswept blizzards and ice storms have been broken by days here and there of sun and relative warmth. Further north in upper Bavaria and the rest of Germany,  there exists transport chaos as vehicles and pedestrians alike are forced to brave huge sheets of ice that have formed over pretty much everything.

Susi and I elected not to follow the rest of Europe as they headed off on every highway and path to their respective holiday destinations; no..we stayed near home, thus avoiding (at least, for the most part) the 50km blocks of (mostly) stop and (a little) go stau (traffic…primarily from northern Germany and Holland) that characterizes travel anywhere near the Alps during these holiday seasons.

Christmas Eve and Day in Pinswang this year were lovely….snow falling, beautiful Midnight and Christmas Day Masses and much needed rest for all. The days that followed were spent greeting and visiting with friends..exchanging gifts, eating far too many home-baked Lebkuchen and Christmas cookies.

New Years Eve and Day were likewise quiet (we were never big New Years Eve partygoers). Susi made us a splendid late dinner, after which we went for a walk about our village. The Gluehwein (hot spiced wine) stand was not as yet opened, so we strolled along the ancient Roman Road (Via Claudia), along which our house sits. The stars shone and the windy cold was biting. Still, we were snug, each within our multiple layers of sweater, shawl and overcoat.

At midnight, we turned on the radio, listened to a broadcast the deep sonorous clarion of the Pummerin…a huge, beautifully cast bell in the tower of St. Steven’s Cathedral in far-off Vienna. This was immediately followed by a performance of An der schönen blauen Donau (The Blue Danube Waltz) by Johann Strauss. The sounds of the Pummerin and Blue Danube Waltz provide the traditional welcome into the Austrian new year. It is very moving indeed, not only of a hopeful future, but the recognition of and respect for nation, history, tradition and culture…not easy during these days when such identity-defining attributes are being swept away.

The sixth of January, was a national holiday celebrating the visit of the Three Kings to the manger in Bethlehem (Heilige Drei Koenigs Tag). After attending Mass, we (as well as all the other homes here in Pinswang) were visited by said nobility and their two escorts…the Sterntraeger (literally, the carrier of The Star) and the youngest toting a basket filled with brochures. (Interestingly, all were girls from the village…not a boy to be seen.)

The Pinswanger Sternsaenger

Together, this troupe is called the “Sternsaenger”. Each year, some of the children from our village (and indeed from villages all over German speaking Europe) dress as the Three Kings and make their way from house to house collecting a few alms for the poor…mostly in the Third World.

At each stop, they sing a short song, followed by the recitation by each of a short poem about following the Star of Bethlehem. The carrier of the brochures then gives one to those listening; in it, there is a description of the charities being supported during a particular year by this Star Singer program. Kaspar, the bringer of Gold, appropriately holds a gilded box, on the lid of which is a thin slit into which donations for each household are slipped.

The Kings and escorts then wish all a Happy New Year and leave. Once the door is shut behind them, the Sterntraeger takes out a special stick of blessed white chalk and, on the wooden frame above the door, inscribes the date and initials of the Three Kings in this form: 20 C+M+B 11. In reality, the initials are a short form for the blessing, „Christus mansionem benedicat“ (that is, Christ, Bless this House). When these distinguished visitors knock on our door at this time next 6 January, they will change the 11 into a 12.

For the remainder of this Christmas season (which lasts until the celebration of Marialichtmesse on February 2), we will venture forth to our neighbors to partake of an old and wonderful tradition..the Krippl’eschauen (seeing the Nativity Scenes).

In every village, there are artisans and master builders who construct gorgeous elaborate Nativity scenes…some in what is called ‘Oriental’ style (depicting the Holy Family, shephards and their flocks and the Three Kings in a scene depicting Bethlehem. Others show the Holy Family etal in a traditional Tirolean mountain village setting. The figures are hand carved and the highly detailed structures are built from scratch.

Of course, when you visit a home to see the Krippe, the host family always bring small ‘shot’ glasses filled with all sorts of Schnapps…pear, peach…sweet or ‘scharf’. On pain of being labelled rude, impolite and at the risk of creating an international incident, an American in Tirol dare not refuse.

Thus, by the end of the day, as the feeling of well-being floods over those enroute to the next house, all Nativity scenes begin to blend together and the ‘ahhhs’ and ‘ohhhh’s with which one praises the builders and their creations tend to sound more akin to ‘ehhhhs’ and uhhhhhhs’. One does one’s best to remain upright and mobile for the duration of the tour.

I am amazed by the stamina and mental fortitude exhibited by the ‘Einheimisch’ (locals) who seem unfazed after their 3rd or 4th schnapps.

I, on the other hand, notice that beyond one tip of the glass, my eyes become disconnected from the brain and start to swivel about in a somewhat uncontrolled manner. I feel as if I am trodding upon marshmallow earth and my tongue quite independently elects to no longer function…at least with regard to the pronunciation of any European language with which I am familiar. Rather, I hear myself transmogrifying ‘sh’s into ‘th’s, ‘t’s into ‘z’s…and my German discourse begins to resemble the cries of a barbarian storming the Gates of Vienna.

Krippl’eschauen thus ends on a foggy but enriched note. I invariably promise myself to be the greeter rather than the greeted next year.

So, further into the new year’s fray we plunge.


  1. It’s been awhile since I checked in. I always get a smile, and usually a laugh from your posts, and this was no exception. I would love to see your swiveling eyes! Keep writing.

  2. I was a Sternsinger once too, and curiously enough not many boys were there also…interesting indeed 😉 Glad you prevented an international incident! It seems you held up good 🙂

    • Thanks for writing! I suspect that many of the young lads in our village feel abit embarassed to donn the royal robes. Perhaps their parents are not supporting the efforts…or leaving it up to the boys to decide whether or not to participate. Regardless…boys or girls….it is a wonderful and heartfelt tradition that I hope will always be with us.

      Thanks also for your reference to my Krippele’schaun adventures. I’ve learned to eat abit more before heading out to view these wonderful creations; doing so seems to help somewhat. Still, by the time I return home from such an afternoon, it is something of an effort for me to remain coherent..and awake. I usually give in to the schwipps and just enjoy the rest of the day with friends, basically because all that were with me visiting the Krippe are in the same condition.

      Viele gruesse aus Pinswang!

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