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The Christkind’s Hard-Working Helpers

The first Mountain Christmas was held in Maria Kirchental ten years ago. Since then the special atmosphere of this place has magically attracted visitors. We take a look behind the scenes of this charming Advent market –  to those people who make sure that it is an unforgettable experience every year.  

Maria Kirchental has a very special appeal at every time of the year but at the beginning of December the magic of Advent is added to that appeal. “The Mountain Christmas is not a typical Advent market. People love to come here because it is original and contemplative. A Christkindl market just as you would imagine it,” gushes Jasmin who has been selling specialities produced on the farm from the Paulinger Farm Shop stand for the last few years. Wrapped up warmly against the cold, she offers samples of her products. There isn’t a heater but she has laid an insulating styrofoam mat on the ground and drinks a lot of hot tea to keep herself warm. “Last year we had a day where it was minus 15 degrees, that was quite hard”, confesses the mother of three young children but she still loves it. “I’m not just a passionate fan of Christmas, I love this wonderful atmosphere in Kirchental”.

Christmas carols in autumn

For most of the participants in the Advent market, the preparations begin in October as the Farmers’ Harvest slowly come to an end. Fruit and herbs have been harvested, the apple juice pressed and now it is time to start planning and making the first preparations. Her many years of experience help her with this because she can now estimate how much will be needed. “We don’t make mass-produced goods. If something is sold out then it’s no good, we simply don’t have any more of it”. Her popular liqueurs, whose range she expands and changes every year, must now be prepared so that they are properly infused by the beginning of December and their flavours fully developed. “I find that liqueurs go well with the Advent season and I have fun experimenting”, explains Jasmin, while she fills the bulbous jars. There are lots of different types to choose from with ingredients such as wine, honey, coffee, baked apple, beer and so on. And because they suit the atmosphere, she listens to her favourite Christmas carols. Many of the delicacies, which Jasmin offers in Kirchental, are also available in the farm shop which she runs with her partner. As a farmer, hunter and butcher, Peter provides hearty things such as venison bacon, chamois sausages and deer liver paste. “The bacon is the absolute winner at the Mountain Christmas, however it has to be preserved for four weeks”, says Peter, who shoots and prepares the game himself.

The preparations are in full-swing

From the middle of November, the bakery comes to life and everything revolves around the sought-after Kletzenbrot. Jasmin explains that people are always asking her for the recipe but this is a well-kept secret and is only passed on within the family. In return, she willingly describes how the delicious apple bread is made. The fact it tastes so good is not only down to her, but also to the farm’s own apples. If there was a rich harvest, she also uses them for the wintery baked apple jam. The closer Mountain Christmas comes, the more intense the preparations. Just before it begins, items are produced which have to be as fresh as possible, such as biscuits and roasted almonds. Tinctures and ointments are prepared from herbs and flowers from their own alm. The products are lovingly packed and decorated with pretty labels. The final spurt now begins for the two grandmothers who diligently knit socks and crochet bookmarks. As the tension increases so does the anticipation.

Mountain Christmas all year round

Elisabeth’s preparations don’t just last weeks or months but continue throughout the whole year. Without this long-term employee of the Salzburger Saalachtal Tourist Office, there would be no Mountain Christmas. It was she who had the glorious idea for this special event ten years ago because she felt a special connection to Maria Kirchental. Like so many other people, Elisabeth is also drawn here and she enjoys this place of power in all seasons. She treasures the atmosphere at the Pinzgau Cathedral, as it is also known, especially in winter when the snow bathes this very calm place in a particularly peaceful silence. It is no surprise then that she wanted to implement her idea of a small but beautiful Advent market with traditional, regional products here. Since then, she has dedicated herself to this job with great passion. As they say: after Christmas is before Christmas because the plans for the upcoming market begin as early as January. The most important task is the choice of music groups who will perform in the concerts in the church.

The stallholders are also selected again at the beginning of the year. She places a lot of importance on the fact that they should offer home-made, regional products. Products such as candyfloss are out of the question for her – you will look for them in vain in Kirchental. The organizer is proud that the market is a certified “Green Event” which means that the relevant environmental and sustainable criteria are fulfilled. The most intense phase of the preparations for Elisabeth is in autumn. Now it’s all about details such as marketing, the children’s programme, the taxi shuttle and general organizational issues. She works hand-in-hand with her colleague Peter who is responsible for the manual tasks.

Let there be light

Things begin to get serious for Peter and his team from the middle of November. First of all there is a particularly honourable task for the men – they most go into the forest and find the perfect Christmas trees. In coordination with the forester, the most beautiful fir trees are chosen, felled and pruned. In the forecourt of the pilgrimage church they receive a new, glittering life. Every year Peter looks forward to the moment when the fairy lights are attached and the Christmas trees shine in all their glory. This is the moment when he feels the reflective atmosphere of Advent. Next, the traditional stalls and the specially-made wooden huts are set up. Even though the team has certain routines, it is always a challenge until everything is in its place and well-anchored. On the first day of the Mountain Christmas all of the stallholders arrive in the morning and there is immediately a lot of activity in front of the cathedral. It will be hectic until everything is done and the excitement is tangible. The cables are checked for the last time and the installation of the huts checked. Are there any fir branches left for decoration; is the technology working for the concerts and where are the wings for the angel?

An angel inspires the little ones

Yes that’s right, now one of the main characters of the Mountain Christmas comes into play. Nicole’s duties only begin today. The student slips into the role of an angel and takes over the care of the young visitors. With her long hair and white robe, some children think she is the Christkind, but of course that cannot be because he is invisible. That is why they agreed on the job title angel. “The children literally beam when they see me. Some of them want to hug me and ask if they can stroke my wings – it’s so touching,” explains the trainee teacher. “I help them to write letters to the Christkind. This is the best job I could ever imagine”, she says enthusiastically. They also do crafts together and she tells the children stories. A photograph with this magical character is especially sought-after by the little ones and she willingly poses for souvenir pictures. Her little followers are generally very well-behaved and awestruck but there was a little embarrassment last year Nicole reports, smiling, “A boy of primary school age stared at me and said, you don’t exist! At first I did not know what I should say as I had never expected anything like that. Then I answered him and said that everyone can believe what they want to believe.” But even dream jobs have their downsides – you have to stand in the cold all day. Nicole knows what helps. Under her angel’s robe she wears ski trousers and an anorak and last year she also tried out heated shoes. “That really helped. You learn something new every year”, beams the student.

Ensuring success

As the opening of the Mountain Christmas nears, the atmosphere calms down and peace returns to the arena in front of the church. The logs in the fire bowls are lit, they crackle and exude homeliness. The people there have a good snack to give them energy for the day because in the coming hours hardly anyone will have time to eat. Lots of people work together to ensure the Mountain Christmas in the Salzburger Saalachtal delights people every year and gets them in the mood for Christmas. While Jasmin and the other stallholders take care of the needs of the visitors and Nicole makes children’s eyes sparkle, Elisabeth and Peter are the good souls of the market who ensure that the fires burn, there are enough warm blankets ready and that the place remains clean. And there is also time for a cosy “Hoagascht” with the visitors. For the participants, these days are more or less contemplative but they are all delighted to contribute to the success of the Mountain Christmas.

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