January 6, 2015
I wasn’t born in a Christian family, yet Christmas has been special to us for two reasons. We moved to England when I was barely 7 and being lucky enough to have parents that embraced other religions and customs, we decorated Christmas trees, hung stockings and received gifts. This never took away from the excitement and delight of our Persian New Year’s celebration- Nowruz- a mere three months later when spring started and our house was adorned by all things coral and resemblances of rebirth. The second reason should have been mentioned first. How chaotic of me. How very un-German. I was born on the 26th of December, the 25th if it’s a Leap Year, (Persians have a different calendar from the Gregorian one) making me a Christmas baby. My birthdays are spent competing with Jesus, and it’s a losing battle. Back in Iran, I would be struggling with another event. The semester finals. I’ve had more than one birthday that coincided with a heavy exam, finding myself getting up early to either prep or drag myself to class on the cold winter day to sit the test.
This year I celebrated it differently. Although away from my family and home, I had my birthday among my second family- my German-Spanish one- in my home away from home. That experience is a whole post in its own. For now I’ll stick to briefly describing the Christmas market phenomenon in Germany and let my photos do the majority of talking.
The Weihnachtsmarkt is what the Germans look forward to come each November. Usually opening on the 24th of the eleventh month of the year, continuing well into the fourth week of December, these markets offer anything (and more) is expected of a winter market for one whole month.
The first couple of winters passed with me not finding an excitement within myself for the opening of the Christmas markets. I could not for the life of me understand why anyone would want to stand outside in minus degrees and sip on drinks that were meant to be served in delicate glasses in room temperature. There was something unnerving about alcohol being heated. Wasn’t that dangerous?
“It’s a German cultural thing” I concluded. (The majority of Iranians don't celebrate Christmas and England didn't encourage many Christmas themed winter markets, except for those rightfully named as "German Market"s.) You should grow up in this society to be able to appreciate it, I believed. But this year I found myself looking forward to the opening day, taking pictures of the set-up process after each class or meeting with my supervisor and sending them to Tim captioned with an “eeeek, I can’t wait for this”. For this year I would celebrate Christmas… Properly...
The traditional mulled red wine, heated to a boil, served in Christmas themed mugs, handed to market visitors with a Pfand (deposit) of 2 to 3 Euros which will be returned once the cup is brought back to any market stand is what the Germans call Glühwein. Some collectors skip the returning step and keep the cup, adding to their collection of Christmas market memorabilia.
Wurst, Chips and Crepes
Hungry? The stands offer snacks varying from hotdogs - of beef and pork nature - to chips steaming under dressings of cheese sauce, ketchup and mayo.
In the Köln Christmas market, not very far from the cathedral, I was handed a spear cutting through layers of pork, grilled to a juicy finish. I washed it down with my now lukewarm Glühwein, cooled down from a burning temperature to a calming warmth. I was happy. My toes were warm from the heated alcohol in my system and my stomach was not complaining.
And then there are Crepes. If sugar infused wraps, enveloping Nutella, cinnamon sprinkles or banana slices are not craved in cold weather, I don’t know what is.
Edibles are not the only things you can find at the markets. From ice skating, to ice stock shooting, to merry-go-rounds, to live music, a Christmas market can become an experience involving family members, friends and colleagues. A PhD colloquium I attend each Thursday had us in our winter jackets, gloves, mittens and all, huddled at the University Square, drinking Glühwein and networking.
And although these days in an attempt to include all German residents, Christian or not, the more politically correct term is Winter Market, I can’t imagine Christmas being what it is without the Christmas markets.
The following pictures are impressions of Christmas markets in Heidelberg, Stuttgart and Köln.