A special throwback Thursday: My first Christmas in Austria
Some of you know I keep traditions from my time in Fieberbrunn and Munich at Christmas. Last summer, while poking around in some files, I discovered that I’d written down a description of my first Christmas in the village of Fieberbrunn in the Austrian Alps.
I wish I’d written more while I was there, but I was so happy that at least I have this!
I arrived in Fieberbrunn September 19, 1980 with the idea that I would visit my boyfriend and that it would be easy to find some sort of job. I already realized I had made a mistake to quit my job in London and come back to the US, and when a friendly note from my boyfriend came that I interpreted as an invitation, I jumped on it.
I stayed with my BF’s family until I was able to get a job as a Zimmermädchen (maid) at a local guesthouse.
I cleaned rooms, did ironing, served breakfast and helped in the kitchen at dinner time (they served breakfast and supper). I rented a room in a house above a shop with a kindly landlady, but that’s a story for another day.
December 24, 1980: I worked until 6pm, with the rest of the night off. (PS of course there was snow!) I changed into my best clothes, and walked over to my BF’s house. His four sisters were dressed in their best dirndls and his mother Frau W was wearing a black skirt and white blouse (probably dressy satin). Herr W and the two sons (one my BF) were also wearing their best.
Dinner in the kitchen was wurst and soup, then we all went into their new Stüberl. This is a cozy room with a wood fireplace (but not as we know them in the US) The heat is radiated into the room via tiles—it’s a wonderful cozy warmth.
The new Stüberl was a little like this photo. The house in the photo is open-plan, but in the old homes there is no such thing. Each room is closed off by a door, which keeps things warmer!
We ate cookies and sang Christmas songs. Herr W played the guitar, and two of the sisters played recorders. We said the Rosary and Herr W read aloud the Christmas story from the Bible.
I mostly listened, of course, because my German was still quite basic and I didn’t know the carols except for Silent Night. (I now have a collection of German Christmas CDs, sheet music, a recorder, and learn-to-play the recorder books… And several German/Austrian Christmas books)
The sons fetched two elderly Aunties and we sang some more! Meanwhile Frau W had disappeared. Suddenly bells rang outside the Stüberl door—the Christmas child has come! We all went into the “old” Stüberl, which was like the new except even smaller, with wood paneling and of course a wood stove.
Inside was a beautiful Christmas tree with lighted candles—Frau W had been busy! Straw ornaments, wooden apple ornaments, chocolate ornaments! So simple and beautiful. We sang “Stille Nacht” and then opened presents. Each person’s presents were in a separate stack. There was even a pile for me!
Then the candles were blown out and we went back into the new Stüberl for Cognac. The oldest son drove Frau W, two sisters, and me to midnight Mass in a tiny, beautiful Baroque church St. Jakob in Haus (an even smaller village 10km from Fieberbrunn). Then home under the glittering stars, surrounded by white snow.
I always try to re-create a little of this cozy atmosphere in my own Christmas celebrations.
I have no photos of these events. I don’t know if this is typical of a Tyrolean village, or just my BF’s family, but at that time there was not much personal photography. Of course, when BF and his pals went mountain climbing, there were always slide shows. And there was a tourist business in Fieberbrunn photographing everyone who went through the ski school. But Frau W always said the best photos are in your heart, so I rarely felt like I could pull out my trusty SLR and start shooting family photos. But the sweet memories do remain in my heart.