Quest For Christmas
I am one of "those" people. You know the ones. They can be found playing Christmas music in July and can think of lame excuses why some of their decorations make perfect sense as part of their President's Day celebration and there is no point taking down the tree because Arbor Day is right around the corner. My stairway resembles an airport runway and I decorate rooms that the only time they are entered by anyone is to put up decorations. If you visit my home you will leave feeling like you spent the day on the beach, but that isn't sand. It is glitter residue from the perpetual art projects going on. So you will always leave more sparkly than you were when you came in. All this to make the point: I like Christmas. And I like it extreme.
Christmas comes in two distinct flavors. Tasteful and gaudy - and I enjoy both of them. White lights, greenery, and, perhaps, a pop of red. Or: My eyes are barely bleeding. I guess I still need more. Gaudy cannot by done in moderation. This is why Europe is such an amazing December destination.
The Christmas season is all about doing what makes you happy, but even more importantly, doing things to make others happy as well. And before I start hearing, "Jesus is the reason for the season" from a bunch of joyless, religious people just ask yourself one question, what would Jesus do? Would Jesus go to a Christmas party and interrupt the fun proclaiming, "Hey, stop all that celebrating. I am the reason for the season." No, I don't think so. If you have read the same Bible I did, I get the impression He loved a great party. Christmas is great all-inclusive fun for everyone. It transcends religion. I don't picture Jesus being offended by people performing acts of kindness toward one another under the Happy Holidays label and determining to "put a stop to that nonsense." You aren't required to adopt another person's religious beliefs in order to respect and show kindness to the person believing them. So Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwaanza, Festivus, or Holiday Season, whatever moniker you want to put upon this time of year, it is still in essence the same thing. A chance to find that best, most kind and loving version of yourself and give it free reign of your life for awhile. And Christmas markets are the perfect fantasy land in which to make that magic happen.
The Christmas markets combine all those elements of the season that make it so wondrous. If they took place in the U.S. people would describe it as stepping back in time. In Europe, it still is the time. Carolling in the streets, roasted chestnuts on the street corner, wassail and figgy pudding, sleigh rides and storytelling, yule logs and nutcrackers, gingerbread and ice skating, advent calendars and nativity scenes. When I say advent calendars I am not referring to something you might sit on an end table or hang on a wall. Advent calendars can literally encompass entire buildings or be the actual buildings themselves (Town hall in Gengenbach, Germany, for example). Then there are also the things that aren't typically associated with Christmas in my mind, but I am more than happy to incorporate them. Festivals and rides, bratwurst and sangria, and, of course, the Christmas Goat (the Swedes have always been a bit peculiar).
I enjoy the all-encompassing feel of joyous celebration all around me. Block after block of car-forbidden streets decked out and tinseled up and drunk on the eggnogs of Christmas present. There is no dabbling in garishness. And if there was ever a holiday designed to be garish it is Christmas.
Therefore, I have decided to undertake a mission into the heart of Europe to discover the best place to completely enmesh oneself in Christmas spirit. Outrageous decorations, beautiful storefront windows, lighting displays, outstanding Christmas trees, and, of course, happiness inducing holiday treats.
I am looking for help in my search for the greatest Christmas locales. If you think you know a location where the Season stands out as extraordinary I would be interested in hearing it. Whether it is in Europe or elsewhere in the world I would like to hear your opinion so I can plan to see it for myself. Tell me why you love this place and what makes it so special in your eyes.