Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

Setup and visiting of traditional landscape nativity scenes in the Salzkammergut region

Applicant: Heimat- und Musealverein Ebensee
Province: Upper Austria
Domain: Social Practices
Year of inclusion: 2015

Traditional Landscape Cribs (German: Landschaftskrippen) are special Christmas Cribs which depict the nativity scene of the birth of Christ embedded in the regional landscape of the Salzkammergut. After emperor Joseph II. had issued a decree in 1782 prohibiting the exhibition of the formerly pompous Christmas Cribs, numerous inhabitants began to carve copies of the crib figures and array them in their private homes. Over time, the size of these Christmas cribs rose to room-filling “Landscape Cribs” including hundreds of carved figurines. Down to the present day, people from far and wide are invited to private homes during the Advent season to visit the broad range of individually arranged Landscape Cribs of the Salzkammergut.

Despite (or perhaps due to) the prohibition by the Habsburg monarchy, the population of the Salzkammergut area in Upper Austria saw the emergence of a special type of Christmas Cribs in the early 19th century. The uniqueness of these figurative and huge cribs is also inscribed in language. For example, the inhabitants of the Salzkammergut differentiate between the term “crib” (German: Krippe) to describe the small, triangular cribs and the dialect expression „Krippö“ which refers to the room-filling landscape cribs.
Another typical feature of the traditional landscape crib is its design. A typical landscape crib does not only represent the regional landscape of the Salzkammergut but also the lives of farmers, shepherds, saline workers, woodworkers, hunters and poachers as well as the alpine world in general. For this reason, the carvers have introduced special characters. The crib figurines were initially carved by saline workers and lumberjacks who are still called “Schnegerer”. The art of carving as well as the knowledge of the individual designs and the placement of the figurines are still passed on from one family generation to the next.

The cribs are annually arranged on December 8 (Catholic Feast of the Immaculate Conception) as part of a pre-Christmas ritual. However, the figurine of Baby Jesus is not put in the manger until Christmas Eve on December 24. Families often clear entire living rooms to make way for the huge cribs from December 8 to February 2 (Catholic Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin). During this period, visitors are invited to the homes in order to see the huge cribs and to get informed about their histories by the proud owners which is also known as the Christmas Crib Tour („Kripperlroas“).