Christmas won’t be typical this year but there’s always a way to enjoy some of the beloved holiday traditions and rituals that make this season special. The magic of Christmas will survive because the spirit of the holiday season lives within each of us.
For centuries, Christmas markets which are also known as a Christkindlmarkt or Weihnachtsmarkt have been a special part of the holiday season in Austria, Germany and the Alsace region of France. Travel back with me to a simpler time, before Covid-19, to enjoy a little of the magical spirit of Christmas in Europe. Imagine strolling through narrow cobblestone lanes in storybook villages or through the illuminated grounds and courtyards of spectacular medieval castles enjoying Christmas markets in authentic and atmospheric settings.
The beautiful historic centers of cities such as Munich, Salzburg, Strasbourg and Vienna as well as small country villages go all out for Christmas. Green garlands and glittering white lights and twinkling stars are strung over streets and draped from building to building for blocks on end. Often glistening snow covered rooftops add to the spectacular beauty and fairytale atmosphere during the holiday season.
Market stalls are set up in the prettiest squares, usually with old town halls, churches, palaces or castles as their backdrop, transforming them into a romantic winter wonderland with a giant Christmas tree at their center. There are living nativity scenes, boys choral concerts, performing brass bands and small groups of carolers that entertain the crowds, creating a festive ambiance that should charm even a “grinch”.
Small wooden huts, decorated with fresh cut greenery and fairy lights, sell traditional handmade items such as wooden toys and decorations, hand carved nativity sets, handblown glass ornaments, hand knitted items and pretty carved candles.
Other huts sell seasonal treats such as hot glühwein, mulled red wine spiced with cinnamon and cloves, gingerbread, stollen, roasted chestnuts and sugar coated almonds. The aroma of grilled sausages and onions, pretzels and other delicious local delicacies from the food huts will make you forget about your feet, hands, and ears getting cold while being outside.
Christmas traditions in the quaint villages of Alsace, France are particularly enchanting but you probably won’t have snow in this part of Europe. However, if you are visiting Austria, especially some of the small towns in the mountains, you have an increased chance of visiting a Christkindlesmarkt in the snow…but just not this year. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has changed all that in 2020.
Even though held outside, Christmas markets have been cancelled. Hotels can’t accept guests at the present time, restaurants (except takeout and delivery) and bars are closed and concerts and similar events can no longer take place. After spending two Christmas holidays in Austria and Germany and observing all of these wonderful traditions, I know this has to be a huge disappointment to generations of families that get together during the holiday season in this region. However, Germany is considering allowing private gatherings in public for up to two households over the Christmas period.
Everyone is trying to make the best of the situation, especially for young children. Countries are reassuring the children that Santa, his elves and reindeer are essential workers and will be allowed to travel around visiting families as they are exempt from global travel restrictions. French citizens are only allowed to leave their homes to buy essential items at the present time but their government has stated that Christmas trees will be considered essential items for the holiday period.
The pandemic has definitely changed how we will celebrate this holiday season, it will be a Christmas like no other. Festivals and markets have been canceled, we are not supposed to gather with families and friends indoors and we can no longer travel to different countries. While it may be hard to be in a jolly mood, the magic of Christmas will survive. Cities have put up displays of shimmering lights and beautifully decorated Christmas trees. If you haven’t already decorated your home, get those treasured ornaments and lights out, they will brighten your spirits.
We all need to find a way to have some Christmas in our life even if it is celebrated virtually. Do something different this year with your family. Find a gingerbread recipe, get together on zoom and make gingerbread cookies along with family members or friends. Perhaps you could host a virtual cocktail party with your friends. What is most important is to keep the spirit of Christmas alive within us all.