Posted by: Nazausgraben | December 31, 2020


Christmas Day, and here in Pinswang we were blessed with the best of gifts…snow! There had been a light dusting of the white during November and all here in the Tirol very much hoped that this would portend a snowy winter.

Our American-style Thanksgiving dinner with the children and grandchildren came and went and the passing of the first weeks of December looked and felt more like Fall; old worn brownish farmer’s fields, the remnants of fallen leaves, now faded and forlorn, gray skies but temperatures well above freezing. Having been for so long under restricted conditions to the global pandemic, most had the feeling that a massive blanket had descended upon Austria; cancelling all of the annual Christmas markets, concerts, social activities and, in general, covering whatever joys that there might otherwise be at this beautiful time of the rolling year.

Everyone did what they could to bolster waning spirits. Here in Pinswang, there was a marvelous idea to create an ‘Adventweg’; that is, a path throughout the village which, when taken, would reveal (I believe it was) 27 ‘stations’ whereby individuals or families would create scenes depicting some aspect of the beautiful Christmas season. These would then be situated at various spots on trails throughout both upper and lower Pinswang as well as the forest connecting the two.

Along the Adventweg, one might encounter a live Christmas tree, beautifully decorated and sporting laminated photos of the Kindergarten class. Abit further on would find a hand-crafted wooden scene, complete with carved houses, our village church and across the top, a Christmas greeting engraved into the wood. At another station one could see a tin foil Christmas star with its long golden shooting tail, all nailed onto a tree. There were beautifully designed flat wooden Christmas trees upon which words of faith and hope were painted. At one house, the entire front yard fence was adorned with an Advent calendar; at each day there was an ornament, some type of item of interest, a stuffed Weihnachtsmann (Santa) and, on the last day of Advent, a small, beautifully crafted Nativity scene.

Throughout the period of Advent, families wandered the Adventweg, enjoying the stations and, in some cases, the chocolates and other sweets made available on certain days. At those stations where the sweets were depleted, Christmas cookies were usually to be found. Many families were seen to walk the trail as the sun waned its last each day, revealing the many strings of batteried flickering lights illuminating many of the displays.

Finally, Christmas Eve arrived; the quiet waiting of Advent was over. Most here celebrated at home with their immediate families. Outside the temperature plummeted and it was bitter cold by the time we returned home after Midnight Mass.

Christmas day in the morning. It had snowed overnight, not just a light sprinkling of sugar dust, but really snowed..…high boot, long thick coated, mufflered and wooly capped deep heavy snow that covers everything from mountain peak down to every crack in the brick driveway. It was only six of the clock and already smoke billowed aloft from every house. Lights blazed from windows as Pinswang came alive to greet this most wonderful day. Everyone here so needed this invaluable gift of snow; coming on Christmas Day, there was no doubt that many a prayer had indeed been answered.

It was off St. Ulrichs where I played the organ at Christmas Day Mass. The still beauty of Advent music now turned to the vibrant repertoire of Christmas and I rejoiced in being able to play so many of the beloved Christmas songs from both the Austrian and English traditions.

After Mass, I stopped to enjoy our church’s Nativity scene (Krippe) which was built by one of Pinswang’s great Masters of the art. On a table before the Krippe was a lighted candle of Bethlehem, the ‘Bethlehem kerze’ or so-called ‘Friedenslicht ‘(Light of Peace).  It was in the late 1980s that the Austrian national broadcaster, the ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk) began what has become most cherished tradition. Each year the ORF broadcasts an aid campaign, designed to raise money for worthy causes.

Each year shortly before Christmas Eve, a candle is lit in the grotto chapel in Bethlehem where Jesus was born and is flown to Austria in a fire-proof container. Upon its arrival, the flame from Bethlehem is then used to the light candles of those who will take them to all parts of Austria. The Bethlehem flame is then used to light even more candles which are brought to a host of locations not only in Austria, but throughout the world, at which those wishing to do so can light their own candles from the flame from Bethlehem. Here in Pinswang, the flame from Bethlehem is brought to each home by members of our local Fire Dept. and can also be obtained in our village church.

One can then purchase a candle for a few Euros and light it from the flame of the Friedenslicht. The candle is of the type that one would normally find adorning gravesites; that is, the wax is in a hard lightly colored wide plastic tube that is protected atop by a metal cover. Air can feed the flame within via decorated openings around the beveled edge of the metal cover. One then takes this covered candle home as a symbol of peace on Earth which one would devoutly wish, not only at Christmas but the year ‘round. This light is also so special as it represents the light of Christ that comes to us each Christmas Eve, a symbol made even more poignant when one sees worshippers departing into the icy dark new morning outside the church after Midnight Mass. The flickering candles can be seen for some time as those holding them walk home, disappearing into the pitch of night.

So it was that I lit a candle, fastened the metal top securely and began my own Christmas Day walk back to our home. Once again it was bitterly cold, but the sun shone about and the snow glistened, creating a veritable universe of stars carpeting the large undulating farmer’s fields.

Now, the problem is that as one walks the Roman Road from the Ulrichskirche to our home, one must do so through the never-ending winds that blow over the wide mountain-side forest-bounded trail known as the ‘Kratzer’. It varies with the times of the day, month and year, weather conditions and the general state of meteorological affairs, but there is almost ALWAYS a blow of some sort wind-tunneling its way from across the border in Bavaria and into our Tirolean valley. This ‘Kratzerwind’ can turn a warm still Summer day into a blowing Sahara storm. It pummels our home with gale force winds especially during the late Summer storm season and blows Fall leaves into a swirl fore our entranceway. But it is especially during Winter that the Kratzerwind really makes itself known; blowing madly day and night, billowing heavy wet snow into massive dunes that block our doorways, making extricating ourselves from our house something of a challenge.

Naught but a mild zephyr when I departed for the church that morning, the Kratzerwind was blowing mightily by the time I departed for home that Christmas Day. As I turned the curve approaching the Earschbach pond not far from our place, I noticed that the lit Friedenslicht flame was wobbling wildly and almost disappearing; it was on the verge of being extinguished by the Kratzerwind.

Now, this posed a rather interesting problem. What does one do when the flame of Bethlehem is blown out prior to bringing it to safe harbor in an enclosed exterior lantern or within our home’s entrance hall? At first glance, one could merely retrace one’s steps back to the church and re-light the candle. Yet, there would still be that nasty gale on the return trip. An alternative would be to head home and simply re-light the candle there, but this would no longer be the Friedenslicht…just a lit candle. I took the easy way out, and did the best I could to shield the flame from the squally onslaught.

Such a strategy was not optimal, however. One hand was occupied with carrying a case filled with music and the other clutched the plastic tube within which the wind blasted flame was wildly flailing and wagging about like a miscreant fly trying desperately not to be sucked into a weaponized vacuum cleaner. It was impossible to half-cover the metal lid openings to prevent the wind to enter. I thus had to hold the candle close, insinuating my body between the wind and the flame, the latter of which was now precariously close to flickering out. What a sight it must have been to see me twisting and turning as I walked home, trying to keep up with the ever-changing gusts now pummeling my back. Had my hat flown off during that transit home, I would have had to make a spot decision to save it from a watery grave in the Earschbach or let the flame be blown to oblivion.

Happily, my destination came into sight and as I reached the gate, I quickly placed the still burning Friedenslicht into the safe glass windowed confines of the Christmas lantern. There it burned, steadily, for the night and following day. The light of Bethlehem eventually burned out, but its meaning and the warm illumination that it brought on that day and all that have followed, stays with us.


  1. Thank you for sharing what is happening in Pinswang over the Christmas period.I miss being able to get to daily Mass in your village.Our whole family were tested positive for COVID 19 and quarentined.I had to spend 5 days in hospital as well.I pray you and all who live and worship in Pinswang have a happy and holy New Year.I also miss being able to go to Father Simon for confession.Such a holy priest.

    • Michael;

      Thank you so much for writing. I very much hope that you and your family recover quickly and are able to once again join us at the Ulrichskirche here in Pinswang.

      Wishing you and yours a healthy and happy 2021.

      – Andy

  2. Oh Andy…what a wonderful story of what seems like a picture postcard Advent and Christmas celebration. Glad you made it home with the candle. Thank you for sharing your wonderful holiday with! Susie and I send our best to you as Susi for a happy and healthy 2021, and the hope our lives can get back on track!

    • Hi Frank and Sue! Many thanks for your very kind comments. Susi and I send you both all our love and best wishes for a very happy and healthy new year to come!

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