The apartment should be adorned with festive decorations, the lights up and running and gifts purchased and wrapped. It is only just after breakfast on Sunday morning and I am already seriously considering how I could turn the clock back to my own childhood, when Christmas was an entirely different affair in the bosom of our family of seven. I jump in the car and drive to my parents, where my father tells me about the Christmas season in Mayrhofen during his childhood, exactly 70 years ago.
The war is over and money is tight. But that didn't matter. It had usually snowed by the beginning of December, when the "Krampus" devils tapped on the windows of the houses where quarrelsome children could be heard in the evening and, in an instant, everything went quiet. St. Nicholas evening on the 5th December was the first highlight in the Advent season. He usually visited us "in person". All 10 children gathered in the warm lounge with their mother, Victoria, and father, Hansal. St. Nicholas entered and greeted everyone, before asking us children what we had learned at school and at home. Full of awe, we answered the holy man's questions, recited some poems and sang a song.
The "Krampus Devil" brought a sack filled with gifts into the parlour – biscuits, apples and nuts. We gladly accepted these special treats, for which we were thankful. Hansl, my brother, who was sitting on a bench next to the wood-fired stove laughed, which enraged the Krampus. He grabbed the boy and dragged him from the bench. Hansl clung to a shelf attached to the stove, which promptly broke in two. Krampus grabbed Paul too. Martin cried and pleaded, "Dear St. Nicholas, help us! Krampus wants to take us all away!“ St. Nicholas then turned and left, taking his evil companion with him to visit the next family.
High Mass – Rorate Coeli
We had to get up early, which was not always easy. We were altar boys, and that meant attending early mass every day. This special service began at 6 a.m. It was cold and very dark, as there was no street lighting at that time. It didn't matter, we found our way to the church anyway.
Mayrhofner Christkindl Procession
The Mayrhofner Christkindl Procession on Golden Sunday was always an impressive experience. Schmalzer Joggal, a well-known man of Mayrhofen back then and head of Mayrhofen Volksbühne (People's Theatre), organised the groups of people involved – shepherds with sheep, angels and, of course, the wagon with baby Jesus. I will never forget how Schmied Jergal knelt before the Christ Child with his hands crossed in prayer – like a figure carved by master sculptor, Otto Moroder. The whole procession stopped in front of the Town Hall, where the Angel of the Annunciation joined the throng. "I bring you good news of great joy – for to you is born this day a Saviour!“ We listened reverently and could feel that Christmas was very near.
Christmas Eve arrived. Holy Mass at 6 a.m. was very special, with a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere. We had no breakfast, as Christmas Eve was a day of fasting until lunchtime, when "honey roux" was served, which we ate with great gusto. We boys (Peter, Paul, Hansl, Martin, Sepp, Engelbert and Konrad) tried to be well behaved in the afternoon, because after our evening meal and prayer of the Rosary, the Christ Child arrived with our presents.
One year, I tried to go up to the first floor – to the "Christ Child Chamber". While standing on the stairs I suddenly saw a bright light and believed it to be an angel. It turned out later that it was in fact my brother, Paul. The girls (Liesl, Moidal and Toni) helped our mother diligently with the many preparations. We waited in the parlour on the ground floor for Christ Child's bell to ring. You could have heard a pin drop. Then there it was, the gentle tinkle of a bell. At last, the time had come. We rushed up the stairs and stood in front of the brightly lit Christmas tree. Candles, angel's hair and biscuits decorated the tree, which was the most beautiful I had ever seen. There was a small package of gifts for everyone under the tree: biscuits, hand knitted gloves and socks. No more, no less. But we were delighted with our gifts and gave thanks to the Christ Child.
There was a pair of skis for me too, second-hand of course. I was surprised and said: „What are you doing Christ Child? You have brought me skis but we have no snow!“. The snow arrived later - like it does now sometimes. We then all attended Midnight Mass, which has always been the most wonderful service during Christmas. Tired and grateful, we then slept through the Holy Night. It was wonderful again – truly wonderful, to experience Christmas in the midst of our large family. Thank you dear Christ Child!
We were a large family with 10 children. Food was scarce during the post war period. Our father was a carpenter and had to feed the entire family with his meagre monthly salary. Our mother looked after us children. If the pantry was empty and there was no bread, she had to ask the neighbours for food. These were terrible times - not the so-called „good old days" that you often hear about today. Wooden toys were also placed under the Christmas tree, which we could play with until the 6th January (Epiphany), after which they and the Christmas tree were taken away by the "angels". A year later they would turn up again for us to play with for this brief period. Nevertheless, we grew up happily and carefree, with none of the technical stresses that the youth of today have to contend with.
Something I would particularly like to mention is the smell of incense that prevailed during this period. On Christmas Eve, father and one of the boys would take a pan of burning incense and holy water through the house and outbuildings to bless them and all that live there – an impressive procedure for us. My wish to you all: May there be peace and contentment in all families at Christmas time!
My, Josef-David, was born on 23.02.1936, the 8th of 10 children. He was the only member of the family to attend secondary school. He left his hometown of Mayrhofen at the tender age of 10 to attend grammar school in Hall in Tyrol, where he was raised by strict priests in Innsbruck. He graduated from the Gymnasium in the Fallmerayer-Strasse, before completing Teacher's Training College (nowadays, the Pedagogical Academy). He returned to his hometown as a qualified teacher, first in Hippach and then in Mayrhofen, where he taught until his retirement, My father was the headmaster of Mayrhofen Secondary School for 25 years. He has always been a loving partner to his wife, Ida, and the best father you could possibly wish for to his five children.