We have had some incredible feedback following our first post in the #FestiveFriday series. Today we take you to two countries that are miles apart with different traditions. The things they have in common however are the passion the two writers have for their respective countries and the festival they celebrate!
We loved learning about Guatemala from Ale’s last blogpost, now we get to indulge in her Christmas traditions!
As some of you might know, I went to Kiel in 2015 as part of my year abroad at university (and those who don’t, I don’t know how because I haven’t shut up about it since). Christmas in Kiel was one of the most magical things I’d ever experienced. There was a huge market by the central station – admittedly, a rat once ran over my foot there, but I was feeling very festive and chose to consider it as more of a Christmas rat – and I was struck by the amount of camraderie and happy feeling around all the people there. No one actually seemed to buy anything from the many little huts around the square, but the Glühwein was flowing and there was almost always some kind of local band playing a Christmas tune or two. When Kate came to visit (namedrop to the editor), we went to Lübeck and marvelled at the marzipan towers on the main square. When other friends came, we went to Hamburg to try the Christmas rides firsthand.
I feel like I should give a short introduction to my former landlady at this point. Her name is Renate, she is the most spritely 67 year old I’ve ever met and she spoils me absolutely rotten. Because there aren’t any young people in my village, she has taken me under her wing. Are we best friends? I don’t know, but we exchange excellent WhatsApp chain mails and she insists on bringing over dinner in a Tupperware every Friday night so I don’t have to cook over the weekend. When I get a call from Renate asking me to go with her on a coach trip to a historic Christmas market, what’s a gal going to do? Obviously accept. So she signed me up with her (other) best friend, Barbara, for a Christmas market tour.
The coach came to pick us up from our village centre and we went, via Cottbus, to our destination. I was the only person on this bus under the age of 64. I know this so precisely because Barbara is 64. The bar opened obscenely early on board the coach; the woman next to me had three half bottles of wine for under a tenner and all before midday. The journey took us about three and a half hours, but I was ready; this was going to be the best Christmas market I’d ever been to! A medieval town in Saxony, on the Elbe, totally off the beaten track for non-Germans! There was a distracting interlude in the afternoon which involved eating half a goose and going on a boat trip with the Saxon equivalent of John Bishop, but we eventually got there at quarter to four. Remember this, quarter to five.
“Right everyone, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Time to go and explore the Christmas market! Remember, everyone needs to be back on the coach by ten to six!”
Ten to six? Maybe I’d got the devilish German time telling wrong (who says three quarters eight when they mean quarter to nine??) and they meant six to ten? Oddly specific, but not unheard of in the land of punctuality. But no, she said ten to six. I didn’t really understand why we’d driven for nearly four hours and been subjected to such John Bishopry for two hours in order to stay there for an hour.
I soon understood why. The stalls all fit one of four profiles: Glühwein, baubles, gingerbread, candied nuts. They were all ever so slightly expensive for what they were. The light sleet in the air was making everything damp, but at the same time not damp enough to feel wet. Renate, Barbara and I only actually spent 20 minutes at the market – there was absolutely no Christmas feeling whatsoever. A man was telling me on the bus about how he came a few years ago and there were Czech craftsmen making ornaments for people to take home with them – where were they now?
Unfortunately, this seems all too prevalent in the New Bundesländer (former East Germany). The markets are full of aging adults, with children too old to come to the Christmas markets but not old enough to have grandchildren of their own, and who aren’t willing to shout about how much they love Christmas. That said, I was in Bautzen a few weeks ago and there were children and young people filling up the main squares of the town. But the stalls were all the same, everywhere I went. A true German Christmas experience you’re looking for? Head north. Try out the Lüneborg or Lübeck markets. Say hello to the Christmas rat in Kiel, wherever s/he may be. And bring the enthusiasm with you! Don’t expect the market to do all the Christmassing for you; drink as much Glühwein (or Apfelpunch! Great non-alcoholic alternative) as you can stomach and bully your friend into trying a Feuerzangenbowle – hot wine with a sugar lump balanced on top and set on fire!
Follow both of them on their travels via their social media: