To say that Germans like Christmas would sort of be like saying Canadians like hockey. While I’m sure many Americans would call Christmas their favorite holiday, no one does Christmas quite like the Germans.
They put up the Christmas decorations in Mainz Thanksgiving week (although, here it’s only as significant as the last week of November can be in a country that doesn’t observe Thanksgiving). By “decorate,” I mean they turn the whole town into a garland-decked winter wonderland.
As soon as you step out of the doors of Mainz central station, you’re greeted by a small Christmas market consisting of stands that look like they came straight out of a village inhabited by elves, complete with an illuminated model of Santa and his reindeer on the roof.
If you venture into the city from the central station, you’ll come to the Mainz Christmas Market, a much larger version of the small group of stands I just described. The Mainz Christmas Market is a sight to behold: Huge crowds stream through the passages created by the wooden stands mocked up to look like they came straight out of one of those claymation holiday special.
Vendors selling everything from purses and wallets to wooden toys and nativities line the streets. Enormous displays of Christmas spirit, like a life-sized nativity scene and a spinning tower of traditional Christmas scenes recreated in plastic sculptures, are scattered throughout the market. At night, the canopy of Christmas lights illuminates the crowds.
When my friend Nick visited last week, he said Germany was the best-smelling country he’d ever been in. This was before the markets opened. If he was here now, he’d insist that Germany should win some sort of Nobel prize for olfactory achievement. The waffles and crepes and bratwursts and smoked meats fill the air with a potpourri of smells guaranteed to stimulate the salivary glands.
The key component of Christmas markets in Germany is Glühwein (mulled wine). Stands all over the market sell it in special mugs. It’s warm and delicious, and if you’re having trouble getting into the holiday spirit, this alcoholic elixir will be sure to help you along.
Christmas in Germany is an experience unmatched by any Christmas experience in the USA. Heavy on good times surrounded by holiday cheer, Christmas in Germany strikes the right balance between commercialization and tradition. It’s been a beautiful experience for me so far, and we’re only a week into the season.