Christmas in Pichla

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I had the opportunity to spend this Christmas in Southern Austria with a family from Pichla, a community with a population of 130 people. I host Austrian students each fall who attend Holland College to study tourism. One of my former students invited me to spend Christmas with her family which included her parents, sister, brother/future sister-in-law, and nephew who is almost one year old. They are a farming family within a close-knit community in the southern province of Styria referred to as the “green heart” of Austria for its ideal farming region. It is best known for its wine, apples and pumpkin seed oil.

Like our own rural communities, they are also seeing a decline in farming. My host family runs a pig farm where they prepare and smoke their own meat and sell to long-time customers within their own and neighbouring communities. On December 24th morning, 60 customers dropped by to pick up plates of cold cuts prepared by Marion, her sister and parents. It was a chance for each of the visitors to sit at the kitchen table for a chat and wish each other the best of the season.

Their celebration is on Christmas Eve which began with visiting Marion’s brother and his family. We waited outside the door until we heard the bell ring to announce that Christkind had been there. We entered and sang Christmas carols that featured Silent Night (Stille Nacht), a song composed in Austria. As the story goes, just hours before Christmas mass on December 24th, 1818, Joseph Mohr asked his organist Franz Xavier Gruber to compose music for a poem he had written two years earlier. It is believed that the organ was broken, so that evening, Joseph Mohr sang the tenor part and played the guitar and Franz Gruber sang bass. The song was well received by the audience of working people in Oberndorf who were facing economic hardship after the Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815) when their community had been split between Bavaria and Austria further to the Congress of Vienna. In 1866, this carol was first published in a songbook for the churches in Salzburg. Christian missionaries introduced the song to other countries and now it has been translated in over 300 languages and dialects. Knowing this story and having heard this song so beautifully sung three times during the Christmas season, the original German version is now my favourite.

After our carol singing, we exchanged presents and had our first light meal before going to her aunt and uncle’s home where we enjoyed a delicious meal featuring typical food from Styria…local wine, cream of chestnut schilcher soup, schnitzel, vegetables, polenta and, for dessert, roast apple and ice cream. After dinner, the extended family once again sang Silent Night (Stille Nacht) around their Christmas tree decorated with lit candles. Christkind must have known I would be in Austria, as I received gifts featuring local food products from the region. Included in my gifts to them were copies of Clyde River’s Landscape of Memories book. We now have six of our books in Austria. These farming families were delighted to look at the photos and understand more about rural life in our community.

A couple of days after Christmas, we attended a mass at their local church and, after the service, we visited graves of their family members. I was struck by the beautiful designs and landscaping. Many of the grave sites were decorated with Christmas trees.

For lunch, the extended family attended a meal featuring venison at my host’s home. Marion’s aunt and uncle had visited Austrian cousins in western Canada, so they brought along their photo album from the trip. It turns out their cousins live on the same street as my brother Blois in Spruce Grove, Alberta.

Spending Christmas in a different culture introduced me to the many different rituals and foods that are part of their tradition. I didn’t understand all the German conversation that surrounded me each day, but I knew in my heart that these people with their warmth of hospitality shared many of the values of the people from my own community. And now that these people know about Clyde River, Prince Edward Island, it is only appropriate that the people of Clyde River know about Pichla, Austria.

So as we wish them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, they would wish us a Frohe Weihnachten und win gluckliches neues Jahr!

The following are the original german lyrics of Silent Night along with the English translation:

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! (Silent Night! Holy Night!)

Verse One:

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute heilige Paar.
Holder Knab im lockigten Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

Silent night! Holy Night!
All are sleeping, alone and awake
Only the intimate holy pair,
Lovely boy with curly hair,
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!

Verse Two:

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Gottes Sohn! O wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da schlägt uns die rettende Stund’.
Jesus in deiner Geburt!
Jesus in deiner Geburt!

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, O how he laughs
Love from your divine mouth,
Then it hits – the hour of salvation.
Jesus at your birth!
Jesus at your birth!

Verse Three:

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Die der Welt Heil gebracht,
Aus des Himmels goldenen Höhn
Uns der Gnaden Fülle läßt seh’n
Jesum in Menschengestalt,
Jesum in Menschengestalt.

Silent night! Holy night!
Which brought salvation to the world,
From Heaven’s golden heights,
Mercy’s abundance was made visible to us;
Jesus in human form,
Jesus in human form.

Verse Four:

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Wo sich heut alle Macht
Väterlicher Liebe ergoß
Und als Bruder huldvoll umschloß
Jesus die Völker der Welt,
Jesus die Völker der Welt.

Silent night! Holy night!
Where on this day all power
of fatherly love poured forth
And like a brother lovingly embraced
Jesus the peoples of the world,
Jesus the peoples of the world.

Verse Five:

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Lange schon uns bedacht,
Als der Herr vom Grimme befreit,
In der Väter urgrauer Zeit
Aller Welt Schonung verhiess,
Aller Welt Schonung verhiess.

Silent night! Holy night!
Already long ago planned for us,
When the Lord frees from wrath
Since the beginning of ancient times
A salvation promised for the whole world.
A salvation promised for the whole world.

Verse Six:

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Alleluja,
Tönt es laut bei Ferne und Nah:
Jesus der Retter ist da!
Jesus der Retter ist da!

Silent night! Holy night!
To shepherds it was first made known
By the angel, Hallelujah;
Sounding forth loudly far and near:
Jesus the Savior is here!
Jesus the Savior is here!

Website featuring history: Click here.

Vienna Boys Choir performing Stille Nacht:


No Comments

  1. Doreen Pound on January 1, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Great story! The graves are beautiful!

    Sent from my iPad

  2. marion on January 1, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    you have done a wonderful job. thanks!

  3. Julia on January 1, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    Taking a trip at Christmas is a wonderful idea. Was there lots of snow?

    • clyderiver on January 2, 2013 at 8:40 am

      Hi Julia; On Christmas Eve day in Pichla it was 14 degrees, the warmest in 60 years; however, I did see some snow in Vienna, Salzburg and traveling through the mountains by train.

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