Christmas tree diving in Zell am See: a very special tradition
A very unusual tradition is celebrated in Zell am See every year on 25 December: Christmas tree diving. Find out what this custom is all about, and read in our story why the men and women of Zell am See’s water rescue team of the Austrian Workers' Samaritan Foundation (ASBÖ) endure the lake’s icy water on this day.
Christmas tree diving: that actually sounds like a combination that doesn't go together at all. But it is as much a part of the Christmas holidays in Zell am See as the candles on the tree - and it has been since the late 1970s. At that time, Christmas tree diving was established to commemorate those who had died or had accidents in the lake: The initiator of the idea was Hubert Reisenhofer, the founder of the Zell am See water rescue team. More than 40 years later, Christmas tree diving is still celebrated every year on 25 December. The members of the water rescue team also use this event to give thanks for an accident-free season, and ask that the next season may also be a safe one.
Lights illuminate the tree at the bottom of the lake
By the way, the candles mentioned at the beginning are a good cue here: during Christmas tree diving, a Christmas tree is plunged 15 metres deep to the bottom of Lake Zell. The electric candles on the tree are lit via a cable that runs along the bottom of the lake. The illuminated tree is then brought to the surface by divers of the water rescue team.
Initially, Christmas tree diving was more of a get-together for members and families of the water rescue team. But over the years the tradition has developed into a real event for visitors and guests too.
Oberschneider Bay as venue
Meeting point for Christmas tree diving is always Oberschneider Bay at the Grand Hotel Zell am See. This setting creates a very special atmosphere. The event begins at 5pm, when it has been seasonally dark for quite some time, and the atmosphere is festive and Christmassy. Folklore wind players accompany the Christmas tree diving event with festive music before the real highlight takes place: To the sounds of "Silent Night", the Christmas tree is brightly lit at a depth of 15 metres. Divers from the water rescue team retrieve the Christmas tree. They emerge with the illuminated tree surrounded by their colleagues, who are holding torches and form a circle in the lake.
What a sight!
Little mishaps are part of it
By the way: emerging with the tree doesn't always go smoothly. Sometimes the candles don't light up properly, or emerging exactly in the circle of torches doesn't go to plan. Of course, this has never affected the festive atmosphere - it was and is all about being together, remembrance and wishes full of hope for the future.
Mulled wine is served of course by the water rescue team, because the visitors as well as the members of the water rescue team, who venture into the lake in icy temperatures, appreciate a hot drink. Donations collected are in support of the work of the water rescue team, which provides its service on a voluntary basis all year round.
The members of the water rescue team in Zell am See do indispensable work: Currently, there are 24 volunteers who are not only on duty at Lake Zell, but also in the rivers, the region, in caves and gorges. The number of missions also shows how important their work is: Alone in 2022, there were 184 call-outs in which volunteers were deployed. These include calls to accidents, technical operations and events that were supervised or organised by the volunteers themselves.
Would you like to experience the Christmas tree diving event?
The next Christmas tree diving event of Zell am See’s ASBÖ water rescue team will take place on Monday, 25 December 2023 at 5 pm. Meeting point is the Oberschneider Bay near the Grand Hotel Zell am See. Mulled wine for warming up is served from 3pm.
Admission is free!