I don't know about you, but I've had a hard time getting in the Christmas mood this year. The economy stinks and the nightly news is depressing. Both, I've told myself are good reasons for being off my Christmas game. Yet, on Friday night I realized they're not and I have the Christmas Market in Stuttgart Germany to thank for pulling me out of my stupor.
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I was in Germany for my last business meeting of the year and on Friday night my goal was to switch into high shopping gear. With less than a week to go before Christmas, I still hadn't bought a single gift for anyone (a nagging bit of evidence that reminded me of flagging holiday mood). So, I set out on a mission to buy. I prepared myself for crowds of desperate last-minute shoppers and bitterly cold weather. I secretly hoped for an
assortment of unique gifts that would solve my problem of not knowing what to buy anyone this year.
I found none of that. Don't get me wrong, there were crowds, the weather was bone-chilling cold and the assortment of gift possibilities were more varied than any Christmas market I've ever been to in NYC (that's for sure!). Yet the crowds were not desparately shopping or desparate at all. They were, if I dare use the word, jolly. They, unlike me, weren't on a mission to shop. Their mission seemed to be to meet up with friends, family and colleagues and warm themselves with Gluhwein, grilled sausages and laughter. The chuckling groups stood in the warm shadow of wooden houses that made up the market. All the houses were decorated with twinkling white lights and fir trees and those that didn't offer wine and sausages sold other delictables like soft German pretzels, sugared nuts, chocolate-covered bananas and strawberries on a stick and even chocolate-covered gingerbread molded into heart shapes.
Every now and then, one or two people from the chattering groups would break free from the cirlce and browse the neighboring houses. They might pick up hand-carved wooden ornaments, creche figurines, a candle of odd geometric shape or hand-painted glass ornaments. Or, they might watch in awe as a market vendor demonstrated a Ronco-like device slice and dice every vegetable imaginable.
Buying was relaxed and certainly seemed secondary to the social goal of the night. I regretted being alone but being alone didn't make me immune to the draw of the social setting. I lined up for a sausage and wine and quickly discovered that the groups were welcoming as well. I chatted with a few toursits from London and shared a laugh with a family from the outskirts of Stuttgart. Then, I broke free from the circle to browse the other houses while I sipped the rest of my warm wine.
Instead of searching for gift inspiration, the setting reminded me of a few things people had been looking for. I found two of those things at the market and made a list of where to find the others when I got home. I also found a collection of unique ornaments made from tree bark for our christmas tree at home. In the midst of it all, a men's choir seranaded us all with what I guessed were German Christmas caroles and I laughed as giddy kids climbed aboard the tiniest ferris wheel I'd ever seen.
A chill set in on my 20-minute walk back to the hotel but I'm happy to say the warmth and holiday energy of the Christmas market hasn't faded yet. I still have some gift shopping to do and I wish the markets and shopping malls in NY put the social atmosphere first like in Germany. I know they don't so my plan is to make sure that the remainder of the shopping I have to do is tied to some other fun activity first.
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah and overall Happy Holidays!
Some of you have asked me whether I'm planning to end this blog at the end of this year. When I started, I set out to do one Never B4 thing each week for one year. Since I started at the end of January, I plan to continue until the end of January 2009. So, I have a little more than a month left which means 5-6 more Never B4's. If you have any suggestions for my finale, please post a comment because I'd love to hear your ideas.
After January 2009, I do plan to continue a variation of this blog but I'll give you more news about that in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
Have a comment or a Never Br suggestion? As as always, I'd love to hear from you so click on the headline above, scroll down and add your thoughts in the comment section at the bottom of the page.