|Weihnachtsmarkt Goslar, Lower Saxony, Germany, 2008|
It has been brought to my attention lately (again, actually) that not everybody Out There is familiar with the ingenious concept of 'Weihnachtsmarkt' (literal translation: Christmas Market). I find that shameful. I find that state of not knowing somewhat precarious for the well-being of all your souls. Therefore, I shall explain.
Weihnachtsmarkt is something that happens in Germany and some other European countries in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I'm currently living in Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany, and here the Weihnachtsmarkt will open on Nov 24, two days from now.
Obviously, the Weihnachtsmarkt is a market, first and foremost. Depending on the place, you will see people offering regional specialties, crafts, delicacies and clothing, art and jewelery. The market traditionally consists of more or less small stalls, decorated in a Christmassy sort of way. It is open every day from the end of November to as early as Dec 23 or as late as Jan 5, again depending on country and region. And I positively love my Weihnachtsmarkt.
Why, you may ask. Allow me to explain.
For one reason, the Weihnachtsmarkt looks nice. Most cities do a lot to have the whole downtown area decorated splendidly with the Weihnachtsmarkt at the center of things. You'll often see wooden models or even dioramas of European fairy tales and fairy tale characters here, witches, little children lost in the woods, Frau Holle and many others. The Weihnachtsmarkt simply sets the right stage for Christmas.
Also, there is food and drink, and occasionally, music, so if I were a guy I'd say wine, women and song. Right. Moving on. Food. Something you can get pretty much anywhere is stuff like stollen or gingerbread, but even with those classics, there are too many regional specialties for me to list them all. Very notable are those huge gingerbread hearts that some people have come to associate solely with Oktoberfest, which is a misconception. When it comes to food, many cities simply have a very long tradition, and all you can do is try to savor as much as you possibly can. Roasted almonds or sweet chestnuts can be found galore at every Weihnachtsmarkt as well.
Then, there would be alcoholic beverages. Let me just clarify. I am an athlete and I don't get drunk on a regular basis, but I can hold my liquor. And I have taste. So, I was gonna tell you about what we call Glühwein. If I were to give you a literal translation, I'd have to go for 'glowing wine'. What Glühwein actually is is red wine spiced with aniseed, cinnamon, allspice and the like. It's a bit like punch, but then again, not really. Again, the way the Glühwein is prepared differs greatly from place to place. Glühwein also comes in bottles for you to enjoy at your own Christmas party. Oh, and of course, it's always served hot (I kid you not. Delicious!)
Apart from the ever-present Glühwein, I simply have to mention Feuerzangenbowle. In literal translation, 'fire tongs punch' might come closest. I'll elaborate. Just like Glühwein, Feuerzangenbowle is served hot. However, the preparation is slightly different. You take a bowl and fill it with red wine, add spices and perhaps orange zest. Then, you take a sugar cone, soak it in rum and place it atop that bowl (two parallel spoons will do, although there are contraptions available for this). Now, you light the rum-soaked sugar cone on fire. Watch as it melts and drips into the wine. As soon as all the rum...and sugar cone is gone, you start drinking. At parties, you stop drinking once the bowl is empty. Then you fill it up again and repeat until Christmas is over. Hell, that stuff can get you drunk fast (especially if you take it with an extra shot of rum like...ah...some people usually do) but there is nothing quite like it. Personally, I could not celebrate Christmas without having had at least one mug of Feuerzangenbowle. (Note also that this would help you were you to celebrate Christmas with unloved relatives. Just sayin'.)
As far as food and drink is concerned, I could go on for ages. It would do nobody any good. Some things simply need to be experienced and explored first hand, believe you me!
I just had the fabulous idea to post a pic of our local Weihnachtsmarkt here as my own personal Advent calendar. Hope it starts snowing soon. Nothing looks quite as nice as fresh snow glazed with golden light.