This Christmas is quite a unique one for me– I am spending it in Graz, Austria with my husband Mike. My older brother Christian has lived here for five years and invited us to come and spend our Christmas holiday with him. This city is magical and I am enjoying every minute of our time here. Here is a list of five of my favorite Austrian Christmas traditions–so far!

5) Filling Shoes

Instead of filling stockings, Austrians traditionally fill a pair of shoes with clementines, chocolate and peanuts. The shoes are cleaned in hopes of them being filled on December 6. There is a Santa Claus figure in Austria culture, but it is little different than American culture.

4) Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve

Austrians celebrate the Christmas tree in a unique way. The tree is not decorated until Christmas eve. A bell is rung by the parents and the children can enter the room and see the beautifully decorated tree. I love the idea of the tree being a surprise, but I do think I would miss the tree for the majority of December.

3) Christmas Markets and Gluhwein

Beginning with the first week of Advent, the market stalls offer ornaments, baked treats, Advent calendars, and of course, gluhwein. This is a traditional Austrian drink of spiced wine served warm. There are many varieties of gluhwein, and each stall serves the varieties a little differently. My favorite so far has been the mango punch, which is gluhwein with mango juice and a little rum added. You can enjoy a cup of gluhwein the majority of the day, but the stalls are busiest during 5-10pm. Sharing a cup of gluhwein with friends is an enjoyable way to spend a chilly December evening in Graz.

2) Advent Calendars 

The Advent season is a high priority for many Austrians. The traditional calendar shows itself in a variety of forms. You could find a calendar of tea, chocolate, cookies, songs, little readings and more. I have enjoyed seeing how this culture approaches the Christmas season with their use of Advent calendars. There were a few years when I was younger that my family gave us Advent calendars, but it was not something we ever celebrated regularly.

1) Family

Out of all to see and enjoy in Graz this Christmas, the best part is sharing it with my family. I am so thankful to be here and see how my brother has found community in this city, how his friends love Jesus, and how they together see and celebrate Jesus in this place. Mike and I have received such kindness from these friends that we feel like family, to, even though our time here is very short.

Merry Christmas from Graz!