I’m baking cookies for the Advent Markt at my daughter’s kindergarten this weekend and it has me thinking yummy thoughts about this time of year. One of the things I love about Germany is the way they celebrate the passage of the year, be it through crops (raps in spring, wheat in summer, sugar beets in fall), food (every restaurant has white asparagus dishes in spring; and what’s harvest without new wine and onion tart?), decor and seasonal flowers (balconies burst with geraniums all summer long, and fall brings out all that is pumpkin and autumnal shades), and of course, the holidays. I don’t let my lack of religious beliefs stand in the way of enjoying the zaniness of Fasching, the profusion of eggs hanging on trees at easter time, the beauty of flickering candles and singing children at a St Martin’s Day parade, or the Christmas to end all Christmas celebration of a german Weinachtsmarkt.
But wait, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet! Thanksgiving is in a whole ‘nother catergory for me. It is a purely American holiday and comes with it’s own introspection. I actually love Thanksgiving. Growing up, it was always a big extended-family affair, and now that we live so far away from family, it is an opportunity to celebrate whatever extended family we have found or made wherever we are. As a military family overseas, Thanksgiving is always a time when we Americans reach out to each other to share this holiday that is uniquely ours. It’s also great fun to share our traditions with our german, or swedish, or french, or swiss, friends. Pot luck can become very interesting–and educational. This year I look forward to the possibility of having spaetzle (thick bavarian noodles) with our turkey!
But I digress. These days, Thanksgiving also means that the next Sunday is the begining of Advent, and the opening of the german Christmas markets! Though they are markets, these are not the all-out shopping frenzy that is the American Christmas experience. This is ages old tradition. This is tiny towns getting together to showcase local talent and share good food and drink for one weekend, and big cities creating a central hub for the season. Booths are set up to sell local crafts, home made preserves, ginsu knives, bratwursts and pork steaks grilled to perfection, gluehwein (mulled wine), candies, flowers and of course, gingerbread. There is music and ambiance to one extent or another. One year, we made it our goal to try the gluehwein at as many markets as we possibly could. I think we went to almost a dozen markets in the four week period, and I’m proud to say that Stuttgart had the best gluewein that year, not to mention very nice toyland decorations atop the booths. We plan to check up on that fair city this year. More recently, TS&WGH and I went out on a date and wandered the market in Wiesbaden. It was a crisp, but clear night and the little white lights and stars on all the booths twinkled romanticly. The booths glowed from within with their wares bathed in golden light. The intoxicating smell of gluehwein and roasted chestnuts wafted through the air and a small band wandered though the little alleys creating a joyous noise which couldn’t help but move anyone in it’s vicinity to dance or sing. To me, THAT was what Christmas is all about–a warm, embracing celebration of friends and family and LIFE.
And lucky me, I get to experience it once again starting next weekend!