I had hoped to write another blog entry before the New Year, but this did not happen. Not for me, at least. All you on the other side of the Atlantic will have a brief chance to read up before your year changes, but for me, it is already 2008. So, to take a quick note of the December happenings now past…
Weihnachtsmarkts. Greatest. Things. Ever. (You will notice in the article, if you read it, that both the markets of Nürnberg and Stuttgart are mentioned. Stuttgart is of course one I visited many times, but the Nürnberg one I took a train to see.) One of the most amazing things about the pre-Christmas season over here was the complete and total lack of Christmas music pouring through every media broadcast available. Commercialization in general was at a minimum, in fact, with one major exception. The Weihnachtsmarkt. Weihnachtsmarkts (or Christmas Markets, to give it an English terming) are a condensation of all things Christmassy and buyable. Except that, unlike shopping in large American malls and retail stores, these things have class. All sorts of vendors show up and set up booths and stands in the streets, full of crafty toys and gifts. Socks, hats, wooden toys, candles, gloves, scarves, porcelain figurines, ornaments, and just about anything amazing, colorful, bright, and shiny that is not mass-produced in stores. Many booths are filled with hand-crafted products that lend a local flair to each particular market. And all of this says nothing of the food. Wurst, candied nuts, chocolate-covered fruit, maultaschen, just to name a few. Imagine all the wonders and joys of typical street food, except served warm and steaming on a dark winter’s night. Imagine eating this in a square filled with lights, and snow, and stands, and happy, laughing people. Because one of the amazing things is that Weihnactsmarkts are amazingly stress-free when compared to your other typical modes of Christmas shopping. People go there, and actually have a good time. Specifically to have a good time, you might say. Aided, of course, by glühwein (a spiced alcoholic beverage traditionally served piping hot. As you can imagine, also incredible.)
Christmas day itself was a little more normal. The German Weihnachts celebration is traditionally held on Christmas Eve. It has been some time since I saw any pile of presents ripped through at the speeds in which the children got through them. Not since I myself was one of the chief culprits, in fact. It was sheer pleasure to watch the little ones in their excitement grabbing for anything and everything with paper on it, hardly waiting to be sure if it actually belonged to them or not. The Naruhns gifted me a Raclette, which came as a complete surprise for me, but which I was incredibly excited to have. Once the kids were in bed, the rest of us stayed up late, watched a movie, had more to drink, and then settled down for a long winter’s nap. On Christmas Day, me and my friend (visiting from the U.S. of A.) went to Mass together, had dinner with the family, and then worked our way through our own gifts at a slower pace than the kids the night before. My friend’s family (who are my second family back home) all wrote me letters. At least the little ones among them did. It was another amazingly wonderful thing that made me feel all warm and tingly inside the rest of the day. (Yay for little children and their endearing spelling errors!) I also had a pile from my own family, which I had requested, so the total pile of letterage was something incredible, and will challenge my own powers of writing in order to respond to them all. (And my powers in this area are great indeed. At this point in time, I have sent over a hundred hand-written sheets of paper overseas, and paid who knows what ungodly fortune in postage to get them there.) Video tapes of most of this were made, and now I am left to try and edit them all down into something less than five minutes.
But the topper of all of these Holiday festivities was for me New Year’s itself. It is strange for me to realize this, because most people in America do not seem to give New Year’s a second thought, beyond a few half-hearted resolutions, watching the ball drop, and perhaps a parade or two on television. (Or am I getting the parade mixed up with Thanksgiving? I forget.) Point is, the American celebration of New Year’s is unthinkably lame. In comparison, “Silvester” here in Germany, is a huge celebration. The traditional meal is Raclette, which involves your choice of bacon, onions, mushrooms, pineapple, corn, tomatoes, and/or any number of other toppings, which are covered by a slice of cheese and left in a Raclette grill to become melted and hot and toasty, and finally eaten on top of a boiled potato. It is great fun, and usually served to large groups who are interested in having a slow dinner.
After this, time is wasted in various ways (walks outdoors, reading of books, listening to music, watching movies) with the aid of a fruity (and once again alcoholic) beverage, until midnight finally rolls around. And this is where the fun starts. Apparently, everyone in Europe lights of fireworks in celebration of the New Year. Americans do not do this, but they very much should. We all stood out on the (very icy) deck for the first ten or fifteen minutes or so and had a good view across the farmer’s fields where we had a clear view of the good villagers in nearby Altdorf making their contribution to the evening’s festivities. Then we all went outside onto the street and began lighting our own.
Now, when I say everyone in Europe lights fireworks, I mean it. All the neighbors were also outdoors, and all up and down the street we could see them lighting the fuses for their own displays. The entire sky everywhere we looked was filled with explosions of green, and red, and gold, and purple, some fountaining outward, some shooting up as great spikes, some making a tight, whistling spiral. I was a little nervous at first, because fireworks can be somewhat dangerous sometimes, and particularly because the first one Markus tried lighting off burnt through its stick before actually igniting, and then once it did ignite, it spun off across the ground and exploded somewhere near the neighbor’s car. But no one was hurt, and the neighbors themselves did not seem very much fazed at all by it. Markus walked over, wished them a Happy New Year, and then went back to shooting the rest of his off with no further mishap. Me and my friend spent the next twenty minutes or so wandering up and down the street, admiring the night, and laughing as snow flakes caught in our hair and landed on our noses.
I wish I could come back every year to experience this again. I know next year I will probably be back home for the somewhat anti-climactic ball-drop. I will begin 2009 just the same way I began ever other year prior to this. But the New Year of 2008 has already left an impression on me that I hope to carry with me the rest of my life. For the first time I can remember, the New Year meant something to me, not as it ended, but at its very beginning.
I would like to wish my American readership (referring to you all as this makes me laugh) joy and happiness as they begin their own celebrations. I am sorry they will not include many fireworks. I hope they include a pleasant amount of snow, and a safe amount of alcohol. And when you all catch up with joining me in the year of 2008, I wish that it goes splendidly for you all. But until you get there, have a happy New Years “Rocking” Eve. (I’m so sorry.)