Unpacking holiday decorations three weeks ago, I came across our “Le Vitrage Leuchtglas”, a candle holder adorned with a quaint and colorful winter village scene including smoke rising from chimneys, people dressed in coats, hats, and scarves talking to one another, children waving, and a horse drawn sleigh in the foreground. It transported me to the time 13 years ago when we bought this treasure, and the place, lovingly described as a life-sized three-dimensional Christmas card.
Living in London at the time, it was just a quick hour and fifty-minute flight aboard Ryanair to Munich, Germany. Robert then drove our rental car the fast – and I mean fast! – hour and a half north to Nuremberg via the Autobahn. Learning that about two million people visit between the Friday before the first Sunday in Advent and Christmas Eve each year, we chose to go in the early part of December and attend during the week.
Just a fifteen minute walk from our hotel to Hauptmarkt, we started out at the Rauthus, the neo-Gothic town hall. There we were welcomed by the words Zum Christkindlemarkt strung across a walkway high above our heads. Right in front of us was the fairy-tale like scenery I had imagined. First referenced in 1628, the Nurenberg Christkindlemarkt is one of the oldest and well-known of the European Christmas markets. Having heard about these markets from Brits and ex-pats alike, visions of strolling along frosty streets warmed by twinkling lights and smiling faces danced in my head. I could hardly wait to let my senses delight in all this one had to offer.
From my journal: December 11, 2009 in Nuremberg, Germany
“I was amazed at the stalls…so many…most signs in German with fancy gold lettering. Folks inside them appeared to be on pedestals…most spoke English or had someone in their booth who did…”
More than 180 wooden stalls packed with traditional, often handmade Christmas decorations and gifts, alongside booths stuffed with sweet and savory treats, called out to us. Setting our sights on visiting as many as we could in our two days there, we also hoped to catch a glimpse of the Christkind. She is the fair-haired teenage girl with the tall golden crown wearing a flowing white and golden gown with angel-like wings who is chosen every two years to take part in the opening ceremony and make appearances throughout the month greeting people, especially children who partake in this event. Christkind is to Germans, as Santa Claus is to Americans.
Bundled in wool and leather from head to foot, we ambled along the cobble stone streets eyeing all the wares. But which to buy? With a list of ideas in hand and recipients in mind, we located Zwetschgenmännle, the popular prune (aka plum) men and purchased a few. These doll-like figurines made of dried plums, nuts, raisins, and figs are not meant to eat, but merely amuse friends and family. Adding candle holders and a golden candelabra to our bags, we continued on. Next, we bought a glittering silver diamond shaped ornament with attached motor that spins when motioned by light. So pretty! Another great buy was the ever-popular pyramid. The one we chose was a two-tier angel pyramid which when the candles are lit, the heat rises it and causes the propeller at the top to spin, making the whole display turn! Amazing! A little later, we found ourselves standing in front of a Kathe Wohlfahrt shop. So inviting, we headed straight in and were mesmerized by all the charming well-crafted items made of wood, glass, and tin. We walked out with a few St. Nick, stained glass mosaic, and pickle – yes pickle – ornaments! There is a German tradition in which a glass shaped pickle trinket is hidden on the Christmas tree. The first child to find it, is rewarded with a special treat. How sweet is that!
Temperatures dipped below 0 degrees Celsius, but we hardly noticed being so engaged in the festive atmosphere. Winding our way to Kinderweihnacht, the Children’s Christmas Market on Hans-Sachs-Platz, we saw a carousel, mini ferris wheel, and steam railway. A kid’s paradise, for sure! There were a number of hands-on booths to entice the little ones, as well. What child wouldn’t want to bake gingerbread, make candles, or create sand pictures? Fun with a capital F!
When the smell of grilled sausages and spicy Gluhwein became the only things we could think about, we stopped to sample the local food. With ceramic mugs filled with hot mulled wine, melt in your mouth lebkuchen aka gingerbread for me, and sizzling mini brats on a crusty roll topped with mustard for Robert, we sat down for a spell. That’s when we noticed the woodworking stall. Before heading back to hotel to warm ourselves and get our second wind, we went to check it out.
From my journal: December 11, 2009 in Nuremberg, Germany
“A young vendor burned intricate images into wood…very cool…it costs 3 Euro for kids to sign their names on wood pieces…Robert burned a computer image and our website name – laughter.com into one!”
The daylight hours proved to be the perfect time for choosing just the right gift for each person on our list – whether naughty or nice! The nighttime hours were best to take in the holiday lights, bright displays, and the coziness of the larger after-work crowds and families. Holiday music could be heard in between words spoken in different languages, and the cheerful peals of laughter erupting here and there.
Even though we didn’t get to see the Christkind, we did get swept up in the magic and nostalgia that only Christmas can bring. No matter where we are, who we’re with, or what we do, Christmas is still the best season to enjoy the spirit of giving, to recapture the joy of years past, and to experience the present holiday through children’s eyes.