Christmas is a time for traditions. What better place to experience a centuries old tradition than at a Christmas Market in a beautiful city like Vienna, Austria?
Given our German background, I felt particularly fortunate to experience the sights, smells, and sounds of a tradition that started as early as the 13th Century in an area steeped in customs surrounding a major Christian holiday.
The European Christmas markets start the week before Thanksgiving and end the day after Christmas. Usually the Markets have a theme to them, such as hand-crafted goods in Vienna’s Karlsplatz Market, or a very friendly atmosphere for children with small, carnival-type rides in the Rathaus (town hall) Christmas Market.
The handcrafted goods are both traditional, such as homemade candles, or very unique, such as an artist who was selling a type of imaginative, fairy tale-like art which she created herself made out of wool and silk. Every market has a wonderful selection of fairly inexpensive traditional foods such as goulash and pumpkin soup served in bread bowls, a wide assortment of fresh, colorful pastries, and dark brown chestnuts literally roasting over an “open fire”. Apple cider is served in small, red St. Nicholas boots, and since it is quite cold at these outdoor festivities, the cider can be served with a nip of bourbon to take a bit of the “chill” out of the air.
We arrived at a market on the late side one night, and had only 30 minutes to shop and enjoy the festivities. Given the German sense of punctuality, the market closed on time, with no doubt a very old tradition of wooden boards pushed down a groove in front of the vendor’s cabin-like unit, promptly cutting the customer off from the merchant behind the boards.
Christmas is a special time of year, and the customs of the Christmas markets in Vienna bring the season to life with a very joyful, Old World feel that can only be experienced in the place where the traditions were originally founded.
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Lori Hatley is an Escondido resident.