Vienna’s Magical Christmas Traditions

November 24, 2015 Updated: March 12, 2018
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As if Vienna weren’t magical enough, at Christmastime this Austrian city transforms itself into a paradise for shoppers with lively markets starting in mid-November and continuing until the evening of Dec. 24.

It all started in 1296 when Emperor Abrecht I allowed Vienna to organize a “Decembermarkt” to ensure enough supplies for the city. In the 16th century the name was changed to “Thomasmarkt.” In 1814, the custom of giving small gifts at Christmas started and continues to this day, with markets selling sweets, pastry specialties, gingerbread cookies, and handcrafted gifts. The newest market, which opened this month, is on the rooftop of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Wine punch, or Glühwein, is traditionally served on Dec. 5, the night before St. Nikolas visits the children in Austria and other central European countries. It is also served at the various Christmas markets around the city.

Glühwein

175 ml (3/4 cup) water
125 ml (1/2 cup) sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 ml (1/2 tsp) vanilla
1 orange
10 cloves
1 bottle 750 ml (3 cups) red wine

In an enamel saucepan combine the water, sugar, and cinnamon stick, and heat just to a boil. Turn heat down. Cut the orange in half, squeeze the juice into the saucepan, and push the cloves into the remaining rind. Put into the water and simmer for about 25 minutes. Pour the wine into the saucepan and heat but do not boil. Pour into preheated mugs or glasses. Serves 4-5.

Gingerbread Cookies

120 g butter
120 g dark brown sugar
125 g molasses
1 egg
570 g pastry flour
5 ml (1 tsp) baking powder
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
5 ml (1 tsp) ginger
5 ml (1 tsp) cinnamon
2 ml (1/2 tsp) allspice

Preheat oven to 170° C (335º F). Cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the molasses and egg. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar mixture and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to the thickness of your choice. Cut out your desired forms. Place on cookie sheets and bake 7-8 minutes.

Editor’s note: European ingredients tend to be measured by weight rather than volume. It is advisable to use a kitchen scale with this recipe for best results.

This recipe is courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Vienna.

Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings, and Doctor’s Review, among others. She is currently the European editor of Taste & Travel International. Email: hallett_susan@hotmail.com