I write this with a bit of hesitation, since I think a full 1/3 of my normal blog audience is now here in Germany with me, but for friends and family still stateside (or Asia), here are some thoughts on Christmas time in Germany.
The short version: it's awesome.
That about sums it up, but since nobody turns to a blog for a 2-second diversion, I'll give you the long version, too.
Germany (and Germans, as a whole) LOVE Christmas. This is a good time to note, for those of you unfamiliar with German politics, etc. that that whole separation of church and state thing that makes the US a (hypothetically) tolerant place for Muslims and Buddhists, etc. isn't at all a policy here. When you move to Germany (or within Germany) and go to the Stadtsbüro to register, in addition to asking where you live, your name, etc. there's a box where you fill in your religion, and if you put in one, money is taken out of your paycheck. This "church tax" goes to the regional/national organization of the religion of your choosing, which mostly means the Evangelical (aka Protestant) or Catholic church, and then gets divied out to the local churches based on number of people in the geographical area aassociated with that church. Also, there are lots more religious pre-schools, I think there can be religion classes in the schools, etc. They are making a push to become more friendly to the sizable Muslim minority, but all things considered, this is still a Christian country, even if many (most??) people don't actually go to church regularly.
That is just a long-winded way of saying that there are no pan-religious "Happy holidays" signs around here, it's "Frohe Weihnachten" and manger scenes aren't uncommon, even in public places. Holiday parties for the MCB department at Harvard tended towards the awkward, but the one here at the MPI was pretty awesome, with plenty of bratwurst, Glühwein, and games and other entertainment:
|Who says scientists can't dance?|
That's when many towns set up a Christmas market with lots of little stands/tents selling all sorts of fabulous Christmas food: roasted candied nuts, bratwursts, and mulled wine (aka Glühwein) at a minimum, and if you're lucky, things like roast chestnuts, potato pancakes, cookies, etc. There are also stands selling all sorts of arts, crafts and "gifts" of varying qualities and types.
I have been to 3 different Christmas markets this year and they were each vastly different experiences. We had great plans to go to Nürnberg, one of the most famous, but in the end, we have to wait until next year for that one.
First up was Groβseelheim, a small village just outside of Marburg. Their Advent market lasts only one afternoon/evening of the year, and it was great. Unfortunately, I don't have the photos on this computer, but I'll add them as soon as I can. As far as we could tell, their market was really a community affair; all the farms and stores and clubs had tents or openned up a room of their barn or yard to sell food or crafts, and it was clear that most if not all of the crafts were made by hand, and that some of the foods were things like the cheese from that farm, or that family's favorite goulash and polenta recipes (which were yummy).
Even the gas pumps showed the holiday spirit, dressing up like Santa. The entertainment was also more interesting, including a fire dancer and a variety of musical acts. The one that probably was the most emblematic was a group of, ehem, "musicians of a certain age" dressed more or less in Santa suits who, when we first walked by were doing a German version of "Rudolph the red nosed reindeer" (or something similar) and then switched to a heavily accented English version of "How many roads must a man walk down". Awesome. I felt a little rude, I started laughing so loudly when they started that second song, but it was just such a strange combination of awesome, I couldn't help myself.
Next, we took a brief tour of the markets here in Marburg (ahem, merely scouting in preparation for our family's visit....). There are actually 2 small Christmas markets here, one up in the "Oberstadt" (the old part of town that's up on a hill) and one around the Elizabeth's Church. These are much more commercial than Groβseelheim, but have just a handful of stands, and it seems like it's still mostly locals hanging out, drinking Glühwein, and listening alternatively (at least as I've been passing through) to surprisingly talented kids, or to the local brass band, who also were quite good, I have to say.
Today, while Sasha was out birding with his brothers, I hit up the market in Frankfurt as I went to meet my family. It was HUGE in comparison to the others, and had pretty much all of the foods I listed above and more: nuts, cookies, candies, bratwurst, pretzels, crepes, waffles, potato pancakes, dunplings of various types, and of course, Glühwein and other hot beverages. In good McLoon fashion, we munched our way through the market, trying one of, well, if not each, at least many of the options. There also were tons and tons of stands selling all sorts of stuff, some cheap, some nice. Do you want a stuffed Santa climbing a ladder to hang from your window? We could have gotten you one. What about lovely ornaments made of glass or straw? Those were available, too. We heard a LOT of languages being spoken, so I definitely felt like this was more touristy than the others two markets, but then again, we were out in the early afternoon, and I did see flocks of German teenagers, so while there were plenty of tourists, I didn't feel like it was -just- a tourist trap. Besides, who doesn't want an awesome bicycle cookie cutter?
Well, this is getting long, but that brings me to the next great thing that Christmas means in Germany: FAMILY!! We are feeling the family love after many months of only Skype contact since my mom, dad and sister, and Sasha's mom, brothers, aunt and grandfather have joined us here. Together, we'll do some serious exploring of Marburg and surroundings, and of course, some serious cooking and eating, so stay tuned for more about Christmas in Germany.
And, since I may not post again until after the holiday itself, "Frohe Weihnachten".