Christmas time always represented an emotional time for me. The lights, decorations, people meeting each other in a festive atmosphere, the smile on someone’s face who’s receiving a gift. All of that conjure some emotions that are difficult to put into words. Needless to say, Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year. This year I decided to look beyond and travel to Germany and its markets. And to tell you the truth, it felt like Germans truly know how to do Christmas.
Strolling through the various markets around the cities of Nuremberg, Cologne and Dusseldorf, it was difficult not to get into the Christmas spirit. The smell of roasted chestnuts and churros, the aromas of mulled wine, Christmas songs playing in the background, the laughter of people who might have drunk a bit too much mulled wine or are just drunk on the whole atmosphere (like me, as I’m not a big fan of the gluhwein), and all those Christmas lights. It was inevitable not to get all Christmassy, even though it was still the beginning of December.
It is a known fact that Christmas is one of the most commercialised feasts in the world. Looking around me, there were stalls with food, with drinks and with artisan products. And do you know which ones were the most crowded? The ones with food and drinks. I know what you’re thinking here. It’s obvious, people like to eat and drink. But I went in deeper than this. In front of most of the food and drinks stalls, there were standing tables where people could gather around and eat or drink, and most of all, talk and laugh together. We could never find a free table. Because most people surrounded these tables and talked for hours. Even if it was freezing cold, or raining.
Christmas is a time to get gifts. But above all, it is a time to meet the people you love, spend time with them, laugh with them, catch up if you haven’t met in a long while, and most of all just enjoy this wonderful time with them. The food and booze make this time more enjoyable, obviously 🙂 So lesson number 1 – rather than stress over what gifts you are going to get for your loved ones, plan days or evenings when you can meet up with your special people, order some food and drinks, and just hang out with them. Give them all your attention, make them feel special and above all, loved.
Another thing that I noticed while strolling through the streets, is the importance of traditions. Although we claim to live in a world where logic dominates our thinking, we still seek the comfort of traditions. Whether it is Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, Krampus and even Zwetschgenmännle (the prune man originating from Nuremberg, who is said to bring you happiness and money in your home), we still cherish these, and urge our children to believe in them. Because they are some of the magical things of Christmas. The child within us still wants to believe in magic, even though we know that it’s not true.
A little note about Krampus, because I got to know about this during my latest trip. Apparently this is celebrated in central Europe, especially Germany and Austria. Basically, Krampus, which is half-goat half-demon, is the opposite of Father Christmas. He beats up the children who have been ‘bad’ during the year. Nowadays, it is celebrated by having a bunch of drunken men suiting up to look like this beast and run around hitting people with twigs. It was a fun, as well as a scary experience for us. Quite interesting to witness though!
Back to traditions. Even though there might be disagreements because they might be outdated, such as the Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet drama (look it up, there’s a bunch to read about it!), most people want to keep these traditions alive. Because what is Christmas if not a whole tradition in itself? It started as a religious feast, but has developed to a whole other thing of its own. It is debatable whether this is a good thing or not. However I believe one thing. If this feast, and all the other festivities surrounding it, are bringing people together, albeit their religious beliefs, then it is serving its purpose. Families are coming together, the homeless are getting more donations of clothes and food, the atmosphere of peace is spread throughout the cities, the twinkling lights are giving hope to people who are going through tough times. All of this, happening through the coldest nights of the year, brings warmth in our hearts and souls.
And so, lesson number 2, listen to your inner child. Continue believing in magic, even though you know that this does not exist. Believe in coincidences, believe in the universe conspiring in your favour. If you are a religious person, believe that there is a God looking down on you and taking care of you all the way. But above all, let the magic of this season give you hope that everything will be alright in the end. The nights may be cold, just like life is hard, but that twinkling light in the window makes it all alright. Let the food fill your belly, the booze warm your heart, the laughter of your loved ones warm your soul.
‘What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?’ – Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!