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What Vienna’s first Christmas tree has to do with the secret police

At Christmas 1814, during the Congress of Vienna, unusual things are observed in the Arnstein household. The famous salon of the lady of the house Fanny von Arnstein is decorated with a fir tree with candles. This is worth a note to the secret police, who have also planted their informers there. Fanny, who came from a Jewish family in Berlin, knew this custom from her home country. Two years later, the Protestant Princess Henriette of Nassau-Weilburg, married to the Habsburg Archduke Charles, also has a tree of lights put up in her house at Christmas. Emperor Franz was present at the Christmas party and liked the decorated tree. Soon there was also a fir tree in the imperial Hofburg. And what is customary with Kaisers is adopted in no time at all by all the nobles, and then also by the commoners. From the 1820s onwards, the Christmas tree made its way everywhere in Vienna.

Even before that, in some households St. Nicholas brought a small coniferous tree with candles for the children. However, this custom was not widespread everywhere.

In the 19th century, the Christmas feast in the circle of the family around the decorated tree and the crib becomes customary. The first stalls offering Christmas tree decorations and small gifts are setting up at the supply markets.

Vienna’s most famous Christmas tree stands today in front of the City Hall on the Ringstraße. This tradition began in 1959, and since then there has been a 30-metre-high spruce from one of the federal states to admire every year. The Christkindlmarkt at the Rathausplatz exists since 1975.