Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Charm of Christmas Markets

Let me take you on a little pre-Christmas trip today from your PC or EZ-chair to the lands of Christmas markets, Germany and Austria.
Also called advent or christkindl markets, they originally gave towns and their burghers an opportunity to stock up on provisions at the onset of the cold season. Historical records name Dresden, Germany as the first in 1434.
Now they are a staple celebration of Christmas traditions drawing millions of visitors in the four weeks of  Advent, leading up to the fest in many towns all over Europe; some immigrants even brought  the concept over to Chicago. Often situated in the old market place, within historic city walls or other pedestrianized town areas, they invite to stroll around, socialize, shop, and eat.
Christmas markets have become popular seasonal tourist destinations. You can book trips to several cities in one weekend to see the famous markets in Vienna, Nuremberg and Munich in one weekend and do your Christmas shopping at the same time.
On opening night and, in some towns, every night, onlookers welcome the Christkind or Christ child, in the form of a golden-haired angel played by a local youth.
Winter reigns in this land of bustling shoppers and onlookers (if global warming is not interfering in a freaky way). What a disappointment if it is mild!
Anticipation of festive things to come fills not only the minds and seasonal spirits of the young. A particular joy on your senses after dark, the cold air is redolent with a myriad of smells associated with Christmas like toasted almonds and chestnuts, chocolate-covered or candied red apples (called paradise apples here) and mulled wine.
Wooden stalls with straw-covered roofs display a vast array of handmade crafts and art: old fashioned dolls, fragrant soaps, bees wax candles, silver jewelry, or environmentally correct wooden toys, (no lead, paint  please). Nativity scenes add to the festive nature of the markets, which otherwise have become very commercialized.
Vendors, clad in woolly caps and fur lined boots grab hot chocolates and lattes like the intrepid strollers and determined shoppers, and fortify themselves with bratwurst or increasingly doner kebab (introduced to the scene by Turkish immigrants years ago). When the fairylights illuminate the scene after dark, even the Yuletide- challenged find it hard to escape the allure of Christmas markets. It’s bliss if it actually snows!
Siggy Buckley

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