Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Very Viennese Christmas

You can smell it before you can see it. 

Bratwurst cooking on the grill, hazelnuts, literally, roasting on an open fire, gluhwein, a hot spiced wine, permeating the air around you. Before you arrive at the annual Christmas Markets in Vienna, Austria, you already feel as if you are in a Christmas song. 

Upon arriving at the world famous market, you first spot the breathtaking Parliament building in the background. It has a tall clock tower in the center and four steeples. The windows are covered with large blue boards and number one through 24, creating an advent calendar to countdown the days until Christmas. The Christmas stands of stained wooden houses form a small village in front of the building. Each stand has an evergreen roof lined with pine awnings and bright clear Christmas lights.

The air is so chilly on this November day that hat, gloves, and a warm mug filled with some alcoholic beverage are required. Hot chocolate with Bailey's, gluhwein, or punsch, a warm version of an Italian spritz with Campari or Aperol, are among the simplest choices of the day at the market. The more difficult choices are presented at the market stands. Overwhelming would be the best word to describe the feeling from the immense variety of Christmas products available for purchase. Ornaments, decorations, Christmas lights, Christmas food, marionettes, Santa figurines, snowman figurines, angel figurines, postcards, stuffed animals, jewelery, dried fruit and spice awnings, literally everything you could imagine dealing with Christmas is available at this market. 

Having grown up celebrating Christmas with a German influence, many of the decorations were familiar to me, making me feel nostalgic for the comforts of home. I searched high and low for a Santa figurine that portrayed the traditional German Santa attire, a long red jacket, skinnier build, and a long grey beard. Of the close to 100 storefronts, I found my Santa in only one. I was overjoyed. Not only did this storefront have my Santa, they had the cutest snowman dressed in a red and white stripped shirt, a top hat and big black boots. He carries a red bag overflowing with toys and a lantern his way. Next, off to my next goal: German trinkets. 

In the United States, the cost of an authentic German nutcracker has risen dramatically, as well as the rarity that they are found in American Christmas stores. Mostly, nutcrackers made in China or Japan are complete knockoffs the more valuable, original German versions. Therefore, coming across a world full of authentic German nutcrackers for an extraordinarily low price of 40 Euro was like finding heaven on earth. In addition to the nutcrackers, there were little wooden traveling smokers available, and I snatched up the last two at the storefront. The smokers are delicate little wooden figurines that come apart in the middle to burn incense in them. The smoke then comes out of their mouths to make them look as if they are smoking out of the metal pipes they hold. One of the smokers I bough holds a birdcage in his fragile hands, while the other is walking his wood dog. 

Walking around the market, you are constantly preceded by the sight of your breath, reminding you of the frigid temperature outside. Throughout the day, the temperature hovered at about 34 degrees. I decided it was best to sample a different kind of hot drink available at the market, so I purchased a Bailey's Irish Cream hot chocolate to help warm me up. As I clenched the mug in my hands, I realized how special of an experience I was currently wrapped up in and wondered when I would be able to experience something so memorable again. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to leave the Christmas markets the way I came: Smelling the scents of the market that make it so festive and special.

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