We’re off to Austria for this interview. Bundle up. Wrap that scarf around your neck. The snow is everywhere!
My friend Elisabeth lives in Austria. She is a woman of extraordinary talents. I can’t even explain all she does at her amazing job. She is a geologist who does consultant work, assessing environmental impact of construction on building sites, and helping advise construction companies how to deal with groundwater levels. She also helps protect the environment from the impact of industry. It’s a fine line to tread and she often finds herself in a dilemma as she is bound to protect nature without stifling business and the economy.
Here is Elisabeth in her portfolio photo from work.
Elisabeth lives in Linz, between Salzburg and Vienna. She loves to hike, ski, and travel. She likes to swim in refreshingly cool water (not the tropical waters for our brave Elisabeth).
Being a pianist, she loves classical music, theater, and movies. In her free time, she likes to travel, and for this, it is very helpful that she has learned to speak several languages. She can hold conversations in English, German, French, Italian, and Hungarian.
One more thing I really admire Elisabeth for is that in every spare moment, she has a book in her hand. This is something that makes every author happy.
And she loves animals, as you can tell from the cat among the presents.
Christmas in Austria is bound to be a white one. The family takes advantage of the many ski and snowboarding opportunities in this lovely country.
How deep is that snow!?
Christmas in Austria is loaded in tradition. Here is Elisabeth to tell us about it.
1. Do you celebrate Christmas?
Of course, the same procedure as every year.
2. Have you ever spent Christmas alone?
No, never, my family has always been too big.
3. Have you ever had a non-traditional Christmas dinner? What did you have?
No, my children are very traditional thinking- there is always a Hungarian fish soup for lunch (with lots of elderly friends/my generation and older-grown-up-children) and at Christmas Eve, Bratwürstel (calf) and sauerkraut at grandmother´s place, most of all kids and kiddies and partners and dogs together, everybody talking and laughing loudly…
4. What are your thoughts on gift giving?
I love trying to find special presents for everybody, to fulfill bigger wishes for my children and nice small gifts for all the others, friends and family.
5. What was the most fun activity you’ve done at Christmas?
After midnight mass we put sexy nipple-toys on a renaissance figure next to the church (oh my god!)
6. Do you have stockings either at Christmas, or on St. Nicholas Day?
There are stockings on St Nicholas`Day, filled with sweets and nuts. When the children still were small, somebody (most time someone from the parish) dressed up as St. Nicholas (invited by the parents) went from house to house, bringing a bag full of chocolates and so on (prepared for the children by the parents) to each of them, telling the legends of St Nicholas, bishop of Myra/Turkey. We celebrate Christmas Eve with the ringing of an old brass horse-sleigh-bell, then we all may enter the living room with the wax-candle-lit tree and all the presents under it. Then everyone must sing Silent Night together, even if I play the piano much too high!!
7. What was the best gift you ever received at Christmas?
I don’t remember. The best gift for me is always to see that my presents please and bring joy to everybody.
8. What was the worst gift you ever received at Christmas?
A voucher for dishwasher cleaning up/10 times from one of my clever daughters- I never got it done without argument…
9. What do you do with gifts you don’t like?
I collect them in a secret place and sometimes I may find a new owner or someone who likes it much better…(chacun a son gout!)
10. What was the best homemade gift you ever received?
I love homemade Christmas cookies!!!
11. Have you ever given a homemade gift? Tell about it.
Filled gingerbread (sugared orange and lemon peels, cranberry jam, nuts), game pastry.
12. What would you change about Christmas?
13. What would you keep the same if you could?
The silence and nervous whispering of my grown-up daughters, sitting on the stairs and waiting for the ringing bell in the living room (and silent humming of Gregorian Christmas carols from the disc).
14. What is your favourite Christmas music or song?
As I mentioned: Gregorian Carols, then Austria`s most famous Christmas song composition : Silent Night and during the opening of the parcels Hungarian Christmas songs as Pasztorok, Mennyböl az angyal (even if the children are not able to sing the text, for them these Carols belong inseparably to Christmas Eve). Another absolutely essential music piece is Petersburger Schlittenfahrt for 4 hands, played by my sister and my 85-year-old mother in memory of our grandmother (1896-1994), who especially loved this piano music at Christmas!
15. What do you like best about Christmas?
I love decorating and at least the building up of our more than 140-year-old Bethlehem Cradle; tiny wooden figures made by some ancestors, some of them quite primitively cut (it might have been a child trying to carve figures like sheep or a fox his first time) or much better cut Holy Mary and shepherds. I love creating the green environment around the cradle with dry wood, moss and other plants…. It is quite contemplative!
And I love meeting my brothers and my sister and their children. We really always try to behave quite well and peaceful, and I must say, it is funny, nice and peaceful. But I have to admit, that our Christmas meeting does not last the whole evening, after 3 happy hours we all drive/go home to our own places to celebrate Christmas/singing Carols/opening presents in “lower” society…
16. Any additional thoughts about Christmas?
- I do not understand people who hate Christmas or who try to escape (into holidays somewhere else, like warm southern islands!) I really love the darkness of these days, also the bad weather and first snow!
- The only bad thing about this time is, that at the end of the year the stress at work grows immensely. Each project has to be finished before Christmas. It is never a calm time! If I could, this would be the thing I `d like to change around Christmas (but someday I will be retired…. Then let´s talk about again!)
- Christmas at home
- Bethlehem Cradle, figures built between 1860 and 1880; some of them with very special local meaning like the brown monk. He is called Katzenwoferl, (Wolfgang), a hermit who lived here in Ebensee 250 years ago in a hut in the wood, caring for many cats …
- Or figure “Vater-lass-mich-aa-mitgehn”, a boy following his father, or “Miazl (Maria, Mizzi)- mit-den- Eiern” (she carries a bowl of eggs an her head), “Nazl (Ignaz)- mit der Leinwand” (carries linen for the child)…
- our (un- complete ) (un-)holy family….
Here is Elisabeth with her husband, Sandor, in Vienna.
Merry Christmas, Elisabeth!