Today, we can’t even imagine Christmas without a Christmas tree. In the pre-Christmas season, when the whole city of Vienna is wrapped in a festive atmosphere, Christmas fir trees are sold all over the city and you can find decorated trees in front of the City Hall and other sights, in passages, museums, cafes and shop windows.
But have you ever wondered when this tradition has even begun and who had the very first Christmas tree in Vienna? Well, this story is truly remarkable and surprising – as the first Christmas tree in Vienna appeared in the house of the Jewish banker Nathan Adam Arnsteiner, thanks to his wife who brought this custom from Protestant northern Germany, her homeland. What’s more, the mention of this tree is in the records of the Vienna secret police!
It was in 1814 when a peace congress of all European states was being held in Vienna since September. Arnsteiner was a great supporter of art and literature. His wife Fanny set up a salon in their house – following the example in Berlin – an important meeting point for artists, the high nobility and clergy, as well as foreign representatives. Similarly, on December 26, 1814, she invited the social and artistic elite to her salon, where a novelty – a Christmas tree – attracted attention. Austrian Foreign Minister Metternich did not attend the Christmas party, but he had his spies there, who then recorded in detail in the report for the secret police which baptized and circumcised guests had attended the party with a Christmas tree where songs were sung and gifts were given.
However, the official history of the Christmas tree tradition in Vienna did not begin until two years later, when again a woman was involved – Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg, the wife of Archduke Charles of Teschen. In July 1816, their daughter Maria Theresa Isabella was born and the happy mother decided to organize a celebration with a Christmas tree for the baby-girl. Emperor Francis I of Austria was also invited to the event in their city palace. He liked the idea so much that he also exhibited a candle-decorated fir tree in his residence in the Hofburg. And what the emperor had, was not to be missed in Viennese aristocratic families… In 1829, trees had already been sold before Christmas in various places around the city.
Today, the most famous Christmas tree is the one in front of the City Hall. Since 1959, an approximately 30 meters high spruce is always supplied to the capital by one of the federal states (Upper Austria in 2020). So far, the tallest tree was a 39.4 meter high spruce from Styria in 1971.
Although the story of the most famous Christmas song Silent Night does not take place in Vienna, you might also like it: Silent Night – a song with a strong message
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri