It's usually very cold during the Christmas season in Austria, especially in Salzburg. But on every street corner you'll find hot roasted chestnuts to warm your hands and your stomach. Along with them are aromatic hot dogs and pork rinds on which to snack as you stroll along taking in the holiday sights. More than anything else, the strains of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart will fill your heart with the joy of the season.
The Christmas season in Salzburg begins with Advent, the last four weeks before Christmas in the old church calendar. Many families still carry on the tradition of the Advent wreath, with lighted candles marking how many of the last four Sundays before the celebration have already come and gone. Besides lighting the candles on their wreaths, children open another window in their elaborate, colorful Advent calendars each morning.
Throughout Salzburg, garlands of lights shaped like big stars, Christmas trees or bells festoon the streets. Advent commences in Salzburg with the sounds of Mozart's "Eine Kliene Nach Musik" (A Little Night Music) and a festive celebration in front of the Cathedral on the Residenzplatz beginning at 6:00 P.M. on the evening of the first Sunday in Advent. The harmonious voices of choirs singing Christmas carols fill the air and echo through the narrow streets. Also during the first week of December, choirs perform Mozart's famous "Requiem" in the Cathedral. The "Advent Singing," with folk songs from the surrounding Alpine region, takes place in the large Festival Hall during the second and third weekends of December.
This also marks the opening of the Salzburger Christkindlmarkt, an open-air Christmas fair, running through Christmas Eve, held on the Residenzplatz outside the Cathedral. Here, you'll find every sort of Christmas gift and decoration, from hand carved toys to delicate ornaments and luscious pastries. Demonstrations of cookie-baking, candlemaking and local crafts are also held daily.
You'll only find items of quality, having to do with the way Austrians celebrate Christmas, sold here. While you're browsing the market, you may want to sip some Bleu Wein, a hot mulled wine made with spices that's sure to warm your insides. Why not buy your Christmas gifts here? The selection is amazing and your family and friends will appreciate their uniqueness.
Over on Mirabellplatz, in front of the old Mirabell Palace, you'll find the Weihnachtsmarkt, a smaller version of the Christkindlmarkt . Here, almost nightly, you can enjoy a concert of Mozart's music. Ensembles, soloists and chamber quartets play by candlelight in the gilded interior of Schloss Mirabell, at Mozart's residence, or at a myriad of other locations. Each concert brings you back to the glorious days when Mozart played for the Archbishop of Salzburg.
On the four Sundays of Advent, literature and poetry readings and classical music performances featuring organ recitals of Mozart's music are held at the Mozarteum. This building houses every book that has ever been written about Mozart as well as many of his letters and manuscripts of his music.
Salzburg, like the rest of Austria, is a Catholic city, so the climax of the Christmas season is Midnight Mass at the Cathedral, featuring a festive organ solo of what else — the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Families fill the church early, as choirs sing in celebration of the birth of Christ.
Another highlight of the season is the Salzburg Christmas Gala. Held on December 23, 25, and 29, at the Mozarteum, it's a mixture of classical, traditional and folk music. Featured are songs and musical pieces from Bohemia, Prague, Vienna and Salzburg. And if you like opera, don't miss a performance of Mozart's "Magic Flute" in the town's theater. In addition, the Marionette Theater offers "Der Fledermaus" nightly from December 26-31.
Though music may be the ribbon that ties all of Austria together at Christmas, the scenery shouldn't be ignored. All sorts of winter sports are available, including old-fashioned sleigh riding through the Salzgammargut (Lake District). Take along an ipod or your cell phone and listen to Mozart as you go.
Despite the cold, it's difficult not to get caught up in Salzburg's traditional Christmas spirit. With such a packed holiday calendar and visitors arriving from all over Europe and beyond, it's advisable to book your Salzburg accommodation well in advance of the Christmas season to avoid missing out. It'll be a Christmas you'll never forget.