An Austrian Christmas

I first wrote this haibun in November of 2000, when Carolyne Rohrig put out a call for unusual Christmas stories for the “Here’s Looking at You” newspaper column she was writing. This haibun first appeared in The Alameda Accent, published in Alameda, California (East Bay of the San Francisco area). In December of 2008, this haibun appeared on Gloria Burgess’s blog, and in late December of 2020 a recording of this haibun was featured on David Gilmour’s “Sound Poetry” program on 101.9 KTAH-FM radio, Tacoma, Washington (scroll down to where “An Austrian Christmas is listed, and listen from the 2:45 to 5:25 mark). This experience took place in 1983 in Steinach, Austria.

During my college years I once spent a few weeks skiing in the French, Swiss, and Austrian Alps. For the Christmas week, a group of college friends and I rented a mountain chalet a little south of Innsbruck. We anticipated Christmas to be a quiet, melancholy time, as we had no Christmas tree, hadn’t planned on exchanging presents, and were all away from our families. However, on Christmas Eve the chalet owners, who lived upstairs in the same building, came down with their twelve-year-old daughter and knocked on our door. The mother carried a large black metal skillet filled with popping and sizzling pine boughs. In halting English, the daughter translated her mother’s explanation that it was their custom to fry a few boughs and to walk around the house letting the tart pine-scented steam fill each room. So we let them in, and followed them around as the mother waved the skillet into each corner of the chalet. We enjoyed the wonderful pine scent for the rest of our stay. It was a wonderful gesture to homesick foreigners, topped only by their inviting us to join them at the small, white-steepled village church to listen to German carols and the ringing of bells at a midnight service. Later that evening, singing echoed through the valley as we first approached the village church in the wintry alpine darkness.


    “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht . . .”

the squeak of snow

in front of the crèche