I was around five or six years old when I saw snow for the first and one of just a few times. I remember being so happy to know that I didn’t have to go to school that day. Everything stopped. No one was able to do anything; we were not used to having snow – I mean we hardly even have rain in the winter. Almost 20 years has passed since that scene, but this morning when I left home I felt something falling – it was again real snow in Frankfurt, the only difference being that in Germany nothing stops due to the snow, it’s as if things are prepared to sustain all weather conditions, and life continues as usual, the trains, S-bahns, U-Bahns…
Seriously though, it seems that even the holidays are arranged around the coldness and snow! I surely felt so yesterday evening when I went to the very famous Christmas market in Frankfurt, it was 0 degrees, or at least it felt like it so I couldn’t have ever imagined how warm it would be there, of course that’s thanks to the warm mulled wine or Gluehwein.
This was my first real Christmas market or Weihnachtsmarkt, even though I actually come from the land of Jesus’ birth and spent my last Christmas Eve in Nazareth at the Church of the Annunciation, the largest Christian sanctuary in the Middle East. Two years prior to that, I spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, where I visited the Church of the Nativity, one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. I don’t usually go to churches and I’m not even Christian, but I find some glory in churches around Christmas time in the Middle East.
But frankly, Christmas in Europe feels much more fun and certainly looks much shinier. There’s a long history of Christmas markets in Germany, and especially in Frankfurt, whose history can be traced all the way back to 1393, when its first reference is found in official documents.
As a sociologist, or at least someone with a Bachelor in Sociology, I could write plenty of criticism about the crazy prices in the shops and the way people feel compelled to spend hundreds and evens thousands of Euros for Christmas each year – from decorations to gifts, and of course we should also mention that Christmas trees have been raised only to be cut down for our pleasure. I could also use economical analysis to suggest that consumer culture compels this behavior and that the economic impact to average people of all this spending is minimal.
But for now, I’ve chosen to put that critique aside and enjoy my childlike enthusiasm over the colored lights, fluffy snow, Christmas gifts and Gluehwein. At least enough to let go and take another round in Frankfurt’s Roemerberg, Paulsplatz, Liebfrauenberg, Fahrtor and Mainkai, only to think about making similar Christmas market trips to other Germany cities in Bavaria and also Berlin.
And there’s reason to celebrate. Because as long as it’s still snowing and cold outside with little sunlight expected for the next three months, at least there’s one beautiful, bright thing happening in Germany every year. The magic of Germany’s Christmas Markets enchant millions of visitors each year with their romantic atmosphere of handmade crafts and culinary specialties like baked apples and Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies).
There’s really not much more I can say, because they need to be seen and experienced. So bundle up, and if you’re coming from a warmer climate like me put on two pairs of gloves and socks, three or four warm layers of clothes, and get out to enjoy some of the romantic Christmastime atmosphere with the lights, sounds and smells of this traditional pastime. And if you’re German, then probably wearing something warm combined with some Gluehwein will be enough to keep from getting cold; and of course you already know how magical the Weihnachtsmarkt can be.