Christmas in Europe

I left Australia on the 24th of November, in a mad dash for pastures not necessarily greener, but certainly a different shade for inspection. Brown-ish in Germany, I guess. Barely visible in Iceland under a ridiculous layer of snow.

I was asked a couple of times why exactly I chose to mosey on over here right as Europe was poised on the brink of a winter that actually happens at some point and you’re guaranteed not to have to wait sixteen years for. I mean, it was negative eight in Iceland and we were only three days into December.

It’s because of CHRISTMAS!!!

Now I’m not really one for Christmas in the traditional sense. I’ve spent one Christmas

Never mind Santa lurking in the background

Never mind Santa lurking in the background

with my family since 2007, am not big on receiving or giving presents anymore, and I don’t drink coke. But there’s something about Christmas over here that just gets under your skin, in a nice way.

Let’s start with Christmas Markets. I don’t want to be as clichéd as to say that there’s “something in the air” (unless Bill Nighy was singing it), but you really can feel a bit of excitement when you visit a German Christmas market*. Despite how absolutely packed they are sometimes, the buzzing of hundreds or even thousands of different people at these always generates an atmosphere that can get you genuinely excited that Christmas is only a few weeks away.

For any new players, Christmas markets are a collection of wooden stalls, which sell a huge variety of things, normally with some sort of Christmas-based theme. There’s candles, Christmas stars (include link), huge amounts of food (usually including regional specialties) and the mandatory alcohol that comes with nearly any special German occasion. This usually takes the form of Glühwein; heated, spiced wine. This is good for any occasion of course, but it’s best when imbibed in the freezing cold of German Christmas, gathered around a huddle of friends.

Doesn't snow often, but it happens

Doesn’t snow often, but it happens

Any self-respecting German town has a Christmas market, I state now in my brash Australian (potential) ignorance. And anyone can turn up, pensioners to preschoolers, doctors to drunks. There’s nothing odd about seeing a few suits turn up for a quick cup of glühwein during their work break. A friend and I were walking through one section of the Christmas Market on a Monday around midday, and it was packed, prompting my friend to ask “do these people not have jobs?”.

I get pretty attached to these things. Freiburg has pretty much your basic Christmas Market. It has everything a regular Christmas Market has, and nothing more. But it’s Freiburg’s. During my exchange Freiburg was my town, and by extension its Christmas Market became my Christmas Market. I have wandered through the stalls as they were being deconstructed on the 23rd twice in my life, and it feels like a friend is leaving town, rather ingloriously, being shepherded out by a bunch of people you don’t know and who therefore have no right to take apart this wonderful being.

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Crepes and gluhwein get the nod of approval

The days of Christmas are doubly strange, because all your German friends are back with their families, celebrating together. This means that you generally either spend Christmas with one of your friends’ families, or with a bunch of international students in the same position as you. I tend to go for the latter. European Christmases are a big family thing, and something about intruding on this bothers me. And I do enjoy spending Christmas with friends, content in the mutual knowledge that you‘re not the only one without your traditional family, and not the only one who doesn’t mind.

Of course, once Christmas is gone, you’re left with the harsh reality of winter. This is why I detest spending January in Germany. Exams are approaching, it gets colder and colder, and one can only go skiing so many times. Take me to Portugal.

But I’d never miss Christmas here.

*It’s not limited to Germany by any means, but it’s what I know best, so let’s go with it for now.

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