One of the picture-postcard scenes of Vienna in the Advent period is a group of friends standing round a tall table at an open-air market, each clutching a mug of Christmas punch (German: Weihnachtspunsch).
- Hot alcoholic beverage served in enough varieties to fill a hamper
- A true Viennese Christmas experience
- Each market usually has its own collectible mug
- See also: Christmas markets in Vienna
Any visit to one of Vienna’s famous Christmas markets is incomplete without the obligatory draft of liquid yuletide cheer and perhaps some roast chestnuts to help the alcohol settle.
Many locals meet after work to wind down while wrapped in wreathes of steam from mugs of Weihnachtspunsch. (The Christmas markets are no pretend event put on just for tourists, but an integral part of the seasonal tapestry of Viennese life.)
Quite what’s in the punch depends on who you talk to. I’ve yet to work it out. We have numerous variations, but the two most common suggestions are a version of Glühwein (mulled wine) and a combination of tea, spices, sugar and spirits (mainly rum and/or brandy).
The drink you get at the Christmas markets is piping hot and often rather sweet. If you prefer to steer clear of alcohol, but still want the Weihnachtspunsch experience, simply try the non-alcoholic version (often called Kinderpunsch, literally “Children’s Punch”).
In recent years, the variety of Weihnachtspunsch flavours seems to have exploded. When I first arrived in Vienna, you essentially had one option: punch. Now we have all sorts of mostly fruit-themed alternatives, from the obvious (orange, raspberry, etc.) to the exotic (e.g. mango, cranberry & elderflower).
The mug tradition
When you pay for a mug of punch, the price is much higher than advertised on the side of the market booth. Relax: the money you hand over includes a deposit for the mug itself, which you get back when (if) you return it.
The Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz, and just about every other Christmas market, has its own unique mug design. The motif changes each year, so people often treat the mugs as collectibles and keep them for themselves. Doing so is a perfectly acceptable practice (but also why they charge the deposit).
These days, they may even sell the mugs separately at a dedicated stand.
To learn more about the vernacular of punch and other delights at the markets, see this glossary.