Friday, 4 January 2013

Christmas in Austria

Fröhliche Weihnachten! (Merry Christmas!)

And a Merry Christmas it is!  Every year we get better at celebrating Christmas.  Every year we keep up traditions and try to find ways to make it richer and more meaningful and of course more centered on our faith.  Here is a walk through our Advent and Christmas season.
Note Bena: We've included the videos linked to youtube as these come up very small.

Advent: Week 1

We used a Jesse Tree this year for the first time to tell the salvation story.  Each day the kids coloured different symbols to go with the scripture of the day.  Eg: burning bush for Moses.  This was very rich and combined with their chocolate advent calendar there was something special each day of Advent.

Here is our Jesse Tree and our Advent wreath, though the candles are on the table at this moment.

St. Nikolaus: Dec. 6th: 
St. Nick's feast day is big celebration here in Europe.  He is the patron saint of many European countries and the miracles attributed to his intercession go on and on.  We put our boots outside our door and had to assure the kids that St. Nick could get to their shoes and that the apartment would be unlocked.  
Here is the morning of.

Here a couple short videos of the kids finding their treats.

And, the folks here at ITI put on a worthy celebration of St. Nick.  Here is bishop of Myrna St. Nick arriving in style for the kids!

Who are the three folks painted black?  If you are dutch you'll know the answer: Zwarte Piets!  Our dutch students insisted on helping out St. Nick (our dean of students Dr. Dolna)

Here the three explain the role of Zwarte Piet:

And here is our song in Dutch for St. Nikolaus:

Feast of the Immaculate Conception: Dec. 8th

This feast day is a major feast day in Austria and thus a national holiday.  We celebrated with a mass and then the students learning German did an Advent presentation.  After the presentation we ate cooked goose (traditional Austrian feast cuisine) and drank local wine.  It was a tremendous celebration.  

Here is the link for part of our drama presentation in German.  Kenton is introducing the event with his teacher.  This if you just wish to see Kenton's monologue with God in German skip to 8:35.  This was first time acting in another language. Definitely a great experience!

Here is a short video of the song wrote for Monseigneur Hogan's 70th birthday.  He is the rector of our Institute.  This celebration was a real hoot and a memory all of us will keep!

And here is Becca and Kate enjoying the musical number!

2nd Week of Advent

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe: Dec. 12th

To celebrate our Holy Mother and the way her appearance to St. Juan Diego changed the course of Mexican history we celebrated with Mexican cuisine and used the opportunity to try out the first instalment of ITI brew.  Chris, in the picture below, starting an ITI brewery and here we are getting the beer blessed by Father Thomas.  The blessing was from Medieval times and asked God to not only bless the beer, but that the beer would bring nourishment to our bodies and bring many to salvation.  Amen!

And of course the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe watched over the whole event.

St. Lucy's Feast Day: Dec. 13th

For St. Lucy's feast day, as we do every year, Winter dresses up as St. Lucy in white for her purity and in red for her martyrdom.  Winter, Eli and Anne presented the story of St. Lucy to their Atrium group (a weekly kids club here at ITI where they learn about the Bible and their faith) and handed out cookies.

To see their presentation (it's a bit long and goofy) follow the link:

3rd Week of Advent

Ember Days:

Ember Days happens 4 times per year at the change of the season.  It is a time for the family to get outside and talk about the change of the season with the kids and how it represents our spiritual journey.  As this was right during my final exams we didn't get to celebrate Ember Days like we should.  However, Winter and Tristan did have their Christmas celebration with Scouts where they said their Scouts code and received the first level of badges/bandanas.  

Here is the video of their song, though it looks like only Winter is singing.  

Rorate Mass

We celebrated the Rorate Mass at 6:30am on Mondays and Saturdays.  This was a beautiful time with the kids as the Schloss was completely lit up by hundreds of candles.  Very sacred and beautiful and if we were early the kids were able to help light the candles.  

Here is Winter and Tristan running home after Rorate Mass to eat breakfast and get Winter off to school.

Early Christmas Gift:  #5!

We found out this Advent that we are expecting baby #5!  Very exciting!  This made things a bit hectic as Becca was down and out with the dreaded nausea and we had to (and still are) trying to figure out how to have a baby here.  Your family doctor doesn't deliver your baby.  We have to find a gynecologist whom will give us a "Mother/child passport" and see Becca through the trimesters.  We need to have the passport stamped at specific times throughout the pregnancy.  At the hospital, a midwife will deliver the baby and then after the delivery a pediatrician checks the health of the baby.  Sounds like a good system but Becca's still hoping for a homebirth.

Christmas Eve:

We have struggled throughout the years trying to figure out how to celebrate Christmas Eve.  We did well this year, but I think we are now on track to an even more meaningful Christmas Eve in the years to come.  

During the day we received a flame from Bethlehem called the Peace Flame.  Every year, a flame is lit in Bethlehem at the grotto where Jesus was born and the flame is brought all around the world- all over Europe, the middle east, the US and even to Winnipeg, Canada.  It is taken to Vienna and then the scouts bring the flame to parishes all over Austria.  At our kinder Christmas Eve Mass, the flame was there and many folks brought lanterns to bring the flame home and light their candles with it.  Many try to keep it lit for two days.  

Beautiful Christmas Kate is hungry and thought the lights looked appetizing!

We came home from mass, and had a traditional Austrian Christmas Eve meal  - Karpfen Blau (Carp Blue) - fish soaked in vinegar and cooked in salt water.  

Then we made a little procession with the candle in the darkness to our 2 cribs.  Tristan and Benedict got to put baby Jesus in the manger while we sung 'O come O come Emmanuel' and then we lit the candles on the tree with the Bethlehem flame and sang Joy to the world.  

We learned that when you have live flames on a tree you need to have branches that go wider all the way to the bottom.  Alas, we couldn't candles on the bottom section of the tree.  Candles on the tree is an Austrian tradition  and something we want to keep.  There is nothing like seeing a tree lit up with candlelight.

 I read out the Christmas story as the kids were finally allowed to eat the Christmas baking we've been saving up and not sharing with them.  We had some German spice cake and kinder punch - but we'll save the Christstollen till tomorrow.  

Christmas Day!  The first day of Christmas

One thing that we learned this year is that Christmastide is an octave.  In our liturgical calendar we celebrate the birth of Christ for 8 days!  Other families here celebrate the 8 days of Christmas and we tried, but we found out about too late.  Alas.  One family here has special food planned for all 8 days, the kids open one gift a day for 8 days, and they do something special as a family each day for 8 days.  Very cool.  Isn't this the way we should be celebrating the most significant, dramatic, mind-blowing event of history - God becoming man!

Christmas morning found our kids up at 4:53am.  Yes... it was a long day.  We opened up gifts. Here in Austria, because St. Nick comes on the 6th of December, the gifts are from the "Christkindl" (Christchild).

Note their cute stockings:  we couldn't find stockings here so we just took their socks like in the olden days.

The gifts from Grandma and Grandpa hadn't arrived yet, but we did receive a package from Uncle Alan and Auntie Susan.  The kids wore their new thermal pants the next day and Tristan has claimed the knitted toque and wears it all the time.  Thank you so much!!!

2nd Day of Christmas:

St. Stephen's Feast Day (boxing day): Dec. 26th

On this day, as is our own tradition, the kids 'box' up any toys they aren't playing with and we give them away.  As well, we celebrate St. King Wenceslaus and tell the story.  Here is a great link for the audio version of the story:

St. John the Evangelist's Feast Day: Dec. 27th

 We received a huge blessing this Christmas: a family with 4 kids flew out for Christmas and generously left us their vehicle to use.  Wow!  Because of this we were able to explore the area a bit.

One place we wanted to explore further was the medieval ruins at Luxamburg.  So we headed there again, to the place where the Medieval festival was held in the fall, and explored.  The kids loved it.

This would've been the area for competition.  You could just imagine the King sitting and watching his knights fight for the favour of the princess... if only we could see what these walls have seen...

Here is the body of water partially surrounding the castle.  Ice is just starting to form... but alas no snow this Christmas...

4th Day of Christmas:

Feast day of the Holy Innocents: Dec. 28th

This day is always a favourite day for the kids.  As we remember all the kids that King Herod had killed in his effort to kill baby Jesus, we celebrate our own children.  
Our kids get to pick their favourite meals and dessert (pizza for supper, cherrios for breakfast, and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch) and then we do an outing together.  We drove an hour south west to a town called Lutzmannsburg.  Here there is thermal baths that have been made into a waterpark extravaganza for the kids.  All the pools have the warm hot spring water (very nice for daddy and Winter who are always cold in pools) and slides so big you have take an elevator to get to the top.

Note Bena:  bring bath robes!
Here is the funny part.  We went down the stairs to the change room and saw lots of folks in bathrobes. We assumed it was folks staying at the resort hotel here.  Then we tried looking for the male and female dressing rooms... and we looked... and looked... and walked around... and around... and realized there was just one large, locker filled change room.  Ha!  That took us by surprise.  We found a nook and did our changing and wished then we had bathrobes like everyone else.

5th Day of Christmas: 

We didn't do too much today to celebrate.  However, we did get outside to hunt for puddles with frozen  ice to break.  That was fun.

6th Day of Christmas:

Today to celebrate Christmas in a small way we went playground hunting.  We drove through a few towns and tried out their playgrounds and then gave them the thumbs up or down.  The kids had a lot of fun and because we get rain and no snow - they were very muddy as well!

7th Day of Christmas: New Years Eve

As is the Dutch tradition, we made Ollie Bollen (deep fried dough you dip in icing sugar) on New Years Eve day.  This was first time making it without my father there with me.  I remembered from last year that the oil was bubbling so I thought I had to have the oil boiling before I started.  So the kids and I waited 40 minutes for my two pots of oil to boil and through in some batter to test.  My ollie bollen was ollie blacken.  With a soggy middle!  Ugh.  So then I had to wait another 40 min. for the oil to cool down before we could start.  Alas, by this time I lost the kids interest and they were playing with friends outside.  In the end, we ended up with an ok batch, but I've still away to go to get them as good as my dad's.

We had a great evening with another couple.  The craziest part about the evening is that around 4:30pm as it began to get dark there were constant fireworks.  Constant well into the night and after midnight.  At midnight, we stood on our balcony and watched a continual barrage of fireworks from almost all around us.  We've never seen anything like it.  Everyone and their horse had fireworks going off!  It sounded like you were in a war zone.

8th Day of Christmas: Mary Mother of God

Mass.  Of course.  Holy day of Obligation.  Sleep.  Sleep.  And packing for our excursion to the Alps.

Kenton's December Reading List:

Plato: Charmides
Jesus of Nazareth: Infancy Narratives by Pope Benedict XVI
Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Fatherhood of God by W.B. Selbie

Sermon from the Vineyard:

If it isn't obvious already, my sermon for this blog is on tradition.  As Rebecca and I have become more deeply Catholic these last 6 years, the one thing we grew to love was how much tradition was a part of the Catholic lifestyle.  This became noticeably and painfully obvious one year at Christmas Eve when a co-worker of mine told me how she grew up celebrating Christmas Eve. Straw under the table, wheat thrown into the air, blessed wine, 12 course meal, fish, and so forth.  Becca and I had usually just Christmas Eve as a night to relax before we went to bed to wake up and open presents.  The emptiness of what we experienced compared to the richness of what these other Catholics were experiences drove us to change.  Tradition is what makes memories, binds families together, builds anticipation, connects us with our heritage, and makes our faith tangible and real.  Thus Becca and I have, after much research, and many discussions with others, tried to implement traditions that our children will pass onto their children.
Let's take this idea further. If tradition is powerful and rich for our families, would it not also be rich in a larger context such as the Family of God - the Church?  Of course.  The Church has know this for years and has given us many Church traditions and Traditions to help make our faith tangible and real and rich as we live it each day.  Tradition with a capital 'T' referring of course to those Traditions handed down by the Apostles themselves (Sacred Tradition) and are a part of the revelation of Christ preserved throughout the ages.  Traditions with a small 't' referring to those traditions that change with time and culture.
So as Paul encourages the Thessalonians to "hold fast to the [T]raditions we passed on to you" (II Thes. 2:14-16) and the Church obeyed and did.  Maybe at a secondary level, Paul is also speaking to fathers to find the traditions of his forefathers and traditions for his family and to hold on them.  For tradition is one of those elements that helps bind a family together.  And in a world where materialism is robbing us of our cultures and families (ie: no longer is Boxing Day the 2nd day to celebrate Christmas it is a day to spend more money to get more stuff) maybe a fresh look into tradition is what we need.

Kenton E. Biffert

Videos for the Grandparents:  Kate begins to walk!

We wish you all a blessed, family filled, fruitful, fulfilling, Christ-centred year.

Alles Gutes zum neuen Jahre!
Happy New Year!

Love, Kenton, Rebecca, Winter, Tristan, Benedict, Kate
and the new baby

Mailing Address:
Schloss Trumau
Schlossgasse 21
2521 Trumau, Austria


  1. It is always great to hear your comments and thoughts and questions! God bless.


  2. Loved this blog post my friend! I enjoyed the video of you speaking German. I can't believe you learnt that fast.

    Good to see our god-daughter walking around. Blessings to you Kate!

    I also didn't know why Black Peter is black. Thanks for clearing that up.

    I'm not sure what I think of the blessed beer - lol!

    We did the Jesse tree this year too. It really brings Advent to life.

    We are praying for you Rebecca and baby! Hopefully you can find a midwife for the

    Have a great Epiphany! You'll have your chalk above the door before we do.

    In Christ and His Church,
    Darryl, Julie, and Family.