20 Dec Christmas Contrasts
Last week I had the unexpected pleasure of wandering through two different Christmas markets. The contrast couldn’t have been greater between the two or where I’ll spend the holidays this year.
The Kitzbuhel market, set in the snow-frosted cobblestone streets of the village, is a single lane of wooden booths filled with Christmas ornaments, decorated gingerbread hearts, and chewy soft pretzels. Small groups of friends cluster around tables and let the sweet, spicy gluehwein warm their insides and their conversations. On a balcony high above the strings of Christmas lights, a brass quartet plays something beautiful and bright. I don’t know the piece, but it feeds my holiday spirit and makes me feel this is a tradition I’ve known forever. It’s magical.
A few days later, I’m traveling through Chicago on my way from Austria to our winter home in Mexico. I have the luxury of spending an evening with family as part of my layover. It happens that we meet at the German Holiday Market on Washington Street. I come up from the subway to a crush of people and lines snaking around as people wait for their souvenir mug of gluehwein or their turn in one of the many temporary stores filled to the temporary rafters with Christmas ornaments, nativity sets, and wooden nutcrackers. All around me, people laugh and share the festive moment with friends and family. The market space is maybe twice the size of the Kitzbuhel one but has 100 times—although it feels like 1000 times—the number of people. This evening, it’s a roaring commercial success.
It’s cold, so we linger only long enough to get some gluehwein and for the others to buy their annual ornaments. Living in the sparse space of a boat six months of the year keeps me from collecting much of anything these days except experiences, and I’m perfectly happy with that.
Right now, I’m sitting in the cockpit of our boat and watching the setting sun paint the Western sky. It’s lovely and warm and I’m happy to be here. But I’ll be honest. It’s so different from my childhood Christmases of crisp air and the sharp scent of pine from our Christmas tree. I’ll never get used to hearing Jingle Bells and seeing palm trees. So I’m extra lucky to have the Christmas markets to tuck away in my memory.