The Most Wonderful Time

I haven’t been a Christmas person for a long time.  I remember liking Christmas well enough as a child, but it was only a second a Halloween.  I mean, yeah, Christmas has presents, and Santa Claus, but Halloween had costumes and running around Trick or Treating.  They were both good, but having my birthday near Halloween just tipped the scales completely.  There was no longer a contest.

Being an adult made some of the Christmas magic go away.  There are no longer piles of mystery presents with my name on them, and I know exactly what is going to go in my stocking.  Minor problems, yes, but they still make a difference in how I feel coming up to the holiday.  I am no longer shaking with excitement or wondering if I can find the hiding place for the gifts; I know where they are, and I know they are most likely filled with sweaters and scarves.  A really lucky time is my getting an Amazon gift card so I can buy my own books for Christmas.

I can’t even rely on making Christmas special for my kids.  We don’t need tons of stupid toys they don’t care about for more than an hour.  Homemade gifts are a lot of work, and hit or miss with children who are surrounded by kids who only receive store bought gifts.  Trust me, when you are almost a teenager it doesn’t matter that Mom put a lot of thought and work into your sweater if it doesn’t look as good as the store bought ones everyone else wears.

On top of that, we very rarely see family around Christmas, so it’s just us year after year.  We try to keep up festive activities, but they require time and planning.   We don’t always have time to watch a Christmas movie, let alone perfectly decorate Christmas cookies for everyone in the neighborhood and make perfect gingerbread houses.  Life just takes so much time.  (Yeah, don’t even consider suggesting Elf on the Shelf.  My kids told me about their friends ‘creepy’ elves, saving me from the consideration.)

I know.  I am kind of a Scrooge.  I don’t completely dislike the season.  I have learned of one thing out here to absolutely love about Christmas.  Europe loves it’s Christmas Markets, and I love them too.

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There are Christmas markets everywhere out here.  Even the smallest town seems to arrange to have a market, even if it is only for the weekend.  We are slightly biased, enjoying the markets in Germany more than the Belgian markets.  They seem to be larger, and more festive; it’s not just market booths like I could find any other weekday, they are special booths with garland and lights.  We are particularly partial to the markets in Cologne, as there are seven to choose from.  We usually start with the gnome market, decorated, as expected, with gnomes everywhere.  I mean, seriously, they are adorable and on mugs, rooftops, swings, and ski lifts.

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Check out the Gnome, watching a bear blow bubbles.  Cute, right?

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I have no idea what this tree is all about, but I am a bit in love.

This year we didn’t hit all of the markets.  It was just too crowded.  Last year we only missed two, the “Gay and Lesbian” market, which we were told was more of an “adult” market and decided not to take our kids there, just to be on the safe side.  It’s not like they have never been in a chocolate shop and discovered chocolate genitals on the shelf, but when we have warning we try to keep it age appropriate.  It was kind of sad to me though; the market was covered in pink and purple tinsel and garland and looked completely fabulous.

The other market we skipped was supposed to be next to the cathedral, and somehow we just missed it. I can’t figure out how.  The church is easy to see.

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Hard to miss, right?  It’s even prettier unclose, in spite of the restoration scaffolding on certain parts.

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Gorgeous.  Unfortunately the market underneath it was so crowded I could hardly move, let alone take a picture.  The best part though was the Santa Claus on the outside giving out candy with Jack O’Lanterns.  It was the best combination of Halloween and Christmas possible.

Our first year out here I didn’t know what to expect, but I found a few things I liked.  It seems to be a lot of things you can find at markets anywhere, like waffle stands, but with the addition of other delicious additions like candied nuts, chocolate covered fruits, and Gluhwein.

Ah.  Gluhwien is amazing.  It is probably the closest I have come to considering alcoholism as a profession.  It is warm, it is tasty, and it will make the crowds and stress of the holiday melt way.  Plus, at some of the markets it comes in cute little mugs you can collect.  I like cute little mugs.

This year I learned of a different version of Gluhwein, Feuerzangentasse.  Do not ask me to say it, I’m pretty sure it will sound like a seizure coming from me and offend everyone.  Sadly, I ordered by pointing to what someone else was drinking and saying I wanted that.

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This drink came in that round mug in the front, which has a little metal thing inside.  First, they pour you a mug of hot gluhwein, then they place a small cone of sugar (it looked like brown sugar, but it could have been raw or natural sugar) on the metal thing, pour a shot of rum on top and set it on fire.  The rum burns off, you dump the toasted sugar into your wine, and when it cools enough to not melt your skin from your lips, you enjoy a sweet and yummy beverage.  Not only does it look cool, but it tastes great.  I would have much rather shared a photo of my flaming mug with you, but as the counter was incredibly crowded, I decided not to join the groups who were taking a picture of their drinks and instead walk through the crowd with my still slightly flaming mug.  It was clearly the better decision.

Cologne will not be my last market this year.  We are spending next week in Germany with some family, so I hope to be able to go to few more new markets that are a little farther away than I would normally go.  Hopefully I will be able to share more and better pictures next time!

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