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.



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