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Christmas in Germany starts on December 1st, when the Christmas markets open. Every town has one, and the big cities have several: groups of wooden stalls with sloping roofs, selling the same basic magic combination of straw ornaments, wool socks and hats, jewelry, and intricately carved wooden ornaments, often of trees or dwarfs, as well as many other crafts. There is always a bratwurst stall, a Glühwein stall (special Christmas spiced wine, often with rum or amaretto added), and a Lebkuchen stall (soft gingerbread cookies covered with chocolate or another sugary topping). The Glühwein stalls always have a big crowd around them—the ones in Marburg close at eight to minimize the number of drunks falling in snowbanks. When you order a drink, it comes in a ceramic cup with the city’s special Christmas design of the year on it, and if you don’t return the cup in exchange for a Euro, you can keep it.
Traditional shaved-wood candleholders. Small candles stand below the horizontal windmill parts, and the rising heat makes the windmill turn, rotating the little carved wood scene attached to it.
One of the two Marburg Christmas fairs, in the Market by the Rathaus. The other one is by Elizabethkirche.
In Berlin, I saw a Starbucks advertising: “Komm doch rein, es weihnachtet sehr!” Come on in, it’s really Christmasing! Then I realized that this only sounded funny because I’m not a native German speaker; the German word for Christmas, Weihnachten, is made of the verb weihen, to devote or sanctify, plus the noun Nacht, night. It opens up a lot of interesting possibilities. The German poet and lyricist Theodor Storm used Weihnachten as a verb as well as a noun in 1862 (in a poem about Knecht Ruprecht, Santa’s appointed helper in German-speaking regions), so it’s been around for a while.
One of the many big Christmas markets in Berlin.
Christmas markets cater to people who like eating chocolate, drinking Glühwein, and are looking for Christmas presents; in other words, there’s something for everybody. I think I’ll forever associate them with being ten years old in Bonn, the first time I went to Germany; all snow and yellow lights and sweets with powdered sugar, thinking how great it must be to have the place feel like Christmas all month long. When I told other German students how special it was for us Americans to see this time of year, they often asked “Well, don’t you have anything like that at home?” I remember going to a Christmas fair in New York, but…no, not really, not to this extent.
A wandering angel stops to give advice at the Berlin Christmas market. She had a very earnest-looking talk with these two guys for about ten minutes.
They’re open from December 1st to the 25th or 26th, depending on the city. Now we are all looking forward to Silvester, New Year’s Eve, when everyone drinks the rest of the Glühwein. Happy Boxing Day!