Austria: Christmas 2004

The 2004 Christmas stamp depicts the Salzburg Christmas market in the old part of the city after a pen-and-ink drawing by Karl Neuhofer of 1987. The market is seen through the central railings of the cathedral, with the Franciscan church in the background.

The Salzburg Christmas market goes back a very long way in history; a "flea market" is chronicled as early as 1491. The 17th century saw the first real pre-Christmas markets, or "Nicholas Markets", where dolls, nibbles and sweetmeats, and all sorts of trinkets were sold. The market started two weeks before St. Nicholas' day and ended two weeks after it. Over the years the duration of the market became a contentious issue; in 1849 for example it was shortened to 2 weeks in total. It was not until 1903 that the city itself first determined the duration of the market: from the 11th of November to the 24th of December each year, with only citizens of Salzburg permitted to conduct business. The Salzburg Christmas market was the first which expressly granted women the right to have stalls and it was women who kept the market alive till its closure in 1932.

In 1972 private initiative at last made it possible to relaunch the historic market and so it now takes place each year from the 20th of November to the 24th of December, situated outside the cathedral on the Residenzplatz (Residency Square) framed by one of the world's most scenic backdrops, Mozart's Salzburg. The market's unique atmosphere now attracts over 850,000 winter visitors to Salzburg each year. They are enchanted, year in year out, not only by all the craft products, gingerbread and spices, but also by the Salzburg choirs and the pastoral and nativity plays. Not least, of course, the music of the Turmblaser wind ensembles puts visitors into the Advent mood and carries them off into a Christmas world that both glistens and yet bids us take time for thought.

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