28 December 2009

Save the Christkind!

A few weeks ago I received a strange message from a friend of mine based all the way in NYC: "What is christ-kind and how can I become Austrian??" to which I replied, albeit with some delay for the news of revived Christkind activism in Austria only reached me when I was googling for good English descriptions to include in my reply.

"The Christkind is the good spirit that makes sure you get wooden logic puzzles, bended log deco art or organic ripened cheese with alpine cow milk or self-made organic mango&sallow thorn jam for Christmas instead of iPods, Wiis and a netbook!

You can become Austrian by learning five things: How to play a classical instrument (or two), how to ski, how to appreciate the taste of Austrian wine, how to bake (you get more credit if you know the different nuances in the taste of Apfelstrudel depending which secret spices you add to the recipe) and of course, you need to campaign in your country of origin
a) for the Christkind
b) against Sound of Music and ...
c) for quality free public health care.

Then sit on your application for some 10-odd years until you may be awarded an Austrian passport.

The fast track is to man a Christmas stall for a whole Austrian winter week at -15°C for eight hours straight for seven days in a row on a traditional Christmas market and come out of this alive.

Of course, in either case, if you are seen yielding an umbrella against the snow (like the clueless British like to do), you forfeit your eligibility and will be deported straight to Northern Scandinavia to learn how to deal with snow and ice, after being detained on a Tyrolian mountain village for a few weeks, with Sauerkraut on the daily menu!!!"

The good news is that despite travel chaos, I got to have my first proper (read: white with all the paraphernalia) Christmas in at least three years and was completely over the moon! I went completely crazy on the Christkindlmarkt (traditional christmas market)!

The day after I arrived, my sis took me to the one on the Freyung, a place in the core of the city centre where the Christkindlmarkt (Santa Claus banned!) usually has an emphasis on domestic organic food and other products such as:
  • Hand-stirred marmelade with interesting taste (mango-sallow thorn, apple&ceylon cinnamon and cherry-banana-cinnamon; as well as banana&white chocolate spread)
  • Sage wine (good to keep warm and the cold away!)
  • Drinking chocolate to die for - apparently sth we're famous for, according to a conversation I had with an English guy (also available at Cybercandy's in Covent Garden for those of you based in London). At the stall you could buy the chocolate itself as a gift or pick a flavour of your choice from a menu and have it prepared with a hand whisker. Imagine doing that for a whole day at -15°C. At least you get to move around, other people (wo)manning their stalls just sit there with a blanket or hugging a portable radiator.
  • Hot organic pear wine - a delicious poem! And not sweet at all, just the taste itself :)
  • Nutty hard cheese made with Tyrolean alpine milk

  • Shaped (=turned) log bowls and other things made of large log - beautiful.

  • Gingerbread hearts and gingerbread in all shapes, paintings and sizes
  • Roasted nuts of your choice (almonds!!!)
  • Mohnstrudel (an Austrian baked poppy roulade)
  • Styrian apples (apparently, there is an "apple trail" in Styria which you can follow to learn more about the farming and processing of apples; it also is the state Schwarzenegger comes from and no, I don't know if there is a Schwarzenegger museum)
  • Styrian pumpkin seed oil (the second specialty the region is famous for - therefore also dubbed "the green gold"), filled into hand-labelled decorative bottles
  • Wooden caterpillars, logic puzzles and other toys for kids.
  • All kinds of hand-made products made of rose: rose mustard, rose soap, rose peeling, reviving rose eye treatment, rose vinegar, rose pepper... Yeah, I did consider too giving the rose mustard a try but the farmer said that due to the limited number of roses, he can't give away free samples but I could try and imagine the taste ("think of roses and let it linger on your tongue" was the exact enthusiastic suggestion of the visionary; I replied that, "I still have the taste of cheese I bought from the stall opposite on my tongue" )
  • Yellow candles made of pure beeswax, (hand-)rolled or molded into all kinds of shapes

In another Christkindlmarkt focussing more on arts & crafts, I found a Thai (!) woman/artist selling ingenious necklace pendants, earrings and hair stuff made of woven coloured and uncoloured bamboo fibre that is shaped or even tied into knots that look like stars or hearts.

In yet another market we pilgrimaged to, we saw/had:
  • Flat bread on demand fresh from a fire oven with topping of your choice together with mulled wine
  • Pony-pulled cart driving you and/or your kids around the park
  • The most beautiful hand-painted and Christmas tree balls made of hand blown glass which unfortunately you can't possibly bring with you when you travel (to bring Christmas with you wherever I go in the world, especially if I can't be in Vienna at that time), so I settled for a small solid tea light holder made of painted glass instead.

At home we had a GIGANTIC turkey and I was spoiled with an array of traditional Christmas cookies (vanilla crescents, miniature linzer cookies) self-made with spelt flour and brown sugar (the healthy variant!) by my sis and a chocolate advent calendar taller than most children by my mum. Bliss galore!!!

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