An Imperial Viennese Winter, 1765

17 December 2009

Christmas has come so quickly this year, I can hardly believe that it is here again.

Amalia, Carolina and I all went sledging yesterday evening at Schönbrunn, which was just the most delightful thing imaginable. The gardens were lit up with hundreds of torches and the whole scene was quite magical as the light flickered across the yellow brick of the palace, the glittering, snow covered gardens and the icicle covered statues, which seemed to shiver and tremble in the torchlight. I wore my new fur lined blue velvet coat with matching gloves and big fur hat.  One of Joseph’s friends said that I looked just like a snow princess out of a fairy tale, which made me feel even more warm inside. Finally, some compliments!

Tonight, after dinner, Josepha lit the first candle on the Adventkrantz and we all sang carols again as outside the snow swirled through the air and settled on the stone windowsills. Joseph was in a very good mood and made us all a special spiced punch, which made me feel very warm inside and rather jolly. I danced with Ferdinand and Maximilian and also with one of the Swiss guards while Joseph took Josepha’s hands and spun her, laughing madly, around the room while the footmen and ladies in waiting all laughed and clapped their hands.

I asked the Christkindl for a puppy and also that Amalia be allowed to marry Karl.

One of Carolina’s maids, Klara offered to share some of the special fortune telling rituals from her village with us. I was wary at first, remembering what a disaster St Thomas’ Eve was but Amalia was enthusiastic about the idea and promised that if it was as horrible as last time she would put a stop to it.

‘Although, you do know that it is all just harmless fun don’t you, Antonia?’ she asked, looking unusually serious just for a moment. ‘It doesn’t mean anything at all.’

I tried to shrug nonchalantly. ‘Oh, I know that. Yes.’

In the end it wasn’t so bad although Josepha decided not to take part. Klara had told Carolina to write as many male names as she could think of on pieces of paper and then place them carefully around the edges of a bowl of water, which had a candle stump floating in it. ‘The first name to start to burn will be the name of your future husband,’ she said with a wide grin. ‘It never fails.’
Amalia went first and we all watched with bated breath as the candle bobbed around the bowl, looking at one moment as though it would burn a piece of paper before suddenly floating away again until finally it singed the very edge of one of them.

Amalia fished it out. ‘Urgh, Ferdinand! I hope he isn’t as annoying as our brother, Ferdinand!’

Carolina was next: ‘Oh drat, Ferdinand again! Maybe it is the same one and we will end up sharing him?’ she joked to Amalia, who burst out laughing.

‘I do not think that Catholic princes are in such short supply as all that!’ she said. ‘Mama would be quite undone if that was the case.’

I went up to the bowl and watched as the candle floated this way and that, illuminating the names on the pieces of paper: Henry, Rupert, Fritz, Karl, George, Ludwig, Maximilian, Wolfgang, Augustus, Joseph. ‘Oh, please let me not get Wolfgang,’ I silently prayed as I watched the candle come perilously close. I did not think I could bear any more teasing about poor Wolferl Mozart and his alleged fancy for me.

‘Aha!’ One of the pieces of paper began to slowly burn and Amalia swiftly plucked it out of the water and held it between her fingertips so that she could read it. ‘Ludwig!’ she announced with a flourish. ‘Oh dear. I was hoping for Wolfgang.’ She winked. ‘Poor Wolferl will be quite heartbroken when he hears that you are not his little fiancée after all.’

From The Secret Diary of Maria Antonia.