Monday, December 5, 2011

Tuesday Travels - Christmas Markets

For me traditions are something to cherish.  No, you don't have to be "stuck" in the past, but you may want to try a new experience. 

German Christmas markets are so unlike our Black Friday or any of the other sale days after Thanksgiving.  The couple of times I've been fortunate enough to be in Germany during December, I visited markets in both small and large towns.  Some open on December 1; some are just for a weekend (in the small villages). 

They all have great atmosphere.  There are lots of handmade items.  I've bought wood carved ornaments, ornaments made from walnut shells, ornaments made from blown glass, ornaments made from lace, ornaments made from something like paper mache, and much more.  I've found hand knit scarves and sweaters.  Of course there is candy and roasted nuts.  And, there is food.  Oh, what food.  And, to drink there is gluhwein which is a mulled wine.  However, there is also kinder gluhwein which doesn't have wine, but is based on a juice.  The first time you purchase a cup in a market, you pay a deposit on the ceramic cup.  (The cup may have the year on it, but definitely has the town.)  For refills, you pay a smaller fee.  Then, at the end of the market, if you wish to return the cup, you get your "deposit" back, or you can keep the cup as a souvenir.  I have cups from 9 or 10 markets.  What fond memories I have when I drink coffee, tea or apple cider from them during December. 

Chicago has a great Christmas market.  Phoenix has a one day market that was in Mesa for the first 3 years and has now moved to downtown Phoenix.  I'm certain other U.S. towns have the markets also.  If you can find one near, check it out.  You really get an idea of what shopping was like for our ancestors in the "old" country.  AND, for many of our "cousins" even now.

Advent Calendar - Lichtbogen, Peppermint Sticks & Decorations in March

Some years we decorate and some years we don’t.  Often, especially while the children were young, we would put lights on the house.  These were those BIG lights on strings, so that if one went out they all went out.  I know that Walt was happy when we finally bought some where the string stayed lit even though one light was out.

For a 3 or 4 years we made decorations that looked like peppermint sticks.  We scrounged the back of carpet stores for carpet tubes.  I wrapped the tubes with heavy duty aluminum foil and then put red outdoor ribbon in spirals around each tube.  They were placed along the driveway and the walk to the house by sticking a 16 inch piece of wood in the ground and placing the tube on top of it.  Then I strung gold garland between the “sticks”.  Those were fun and affordable.

Now, even when we don’t put up house lights, I put a German candle holder in the window.  It’s called a “Lichtbogen” or loosely translated “light arch”.  It’s really not an arch, but a triangular shape.  Since it is electric, I put it on a timer,  and it stays lit all night long.  Walt and I saw these in many German windows the couple of years we visited during December.  So now we have a two of them and we put them in our windows in Phoenix.

In Phoenix, and in Southern California, outside decorations always were removed around New Year’s Day.  It was quite a surprise when Walt and I moved to Montreal, to find Christmas decorations still up the middle of March.  Then, after living there for a couple of years we could understand the difficulty of removing some of these decorations when you have 4-6 feet of snow on the ground.  After all, how do you place a ladder securely to remove the lights; many on the second floor eaves?  How do you traipse through all of the snow to remove the snowmen and other figures that are in your yard?  (And they may be half covered with snow also.)  So that was a new event for us.   

When I was a child, and then when our children were young, we would walk around the neighborhood, or drive further distances, to see the lights.  There were some houses that had huge amounts of lights, but we didn’t really care.  We just enjoyed all of them.  And the oohs and aahs of children and adults is still a pleasant sound.  We don’t do it as much, but I still enjoy strolling the neighborhood the middle of December.  Of course, in Phoenix, it’s something you CAN do without being totally bundled up.