CHARLOTTE, NC: Like it or not, the Christmas Holidays are upon us. It’s that time of the year when families head “over the river and through the woods” for annual family reunions that frequently carry as much dread as they do goodwill.
Today, many people ascribe to the school of thought that Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year; a four-day break from work, no presents to buy, lots of food, turkey-induced afternoon naps and another loss for the Detroit Lions.
After that, it’s downhill from there as many people go into a Christmas funk only to find the season to be more depressing than uplifting. Much of that is self-induced because we spread ourselves too thin trying to decorate, live normal lives amid the seemingly endless array of non-stop festivities as we try to find time to buy the perfect gift for everyone.
It doesn’t help that days are shorter and the weather is frequently uncooperative.
Back before I became ensnared by ALS
In my pre-Pinocchio days when I could walk and talk like a real boy, I was fortunate enough to visit some of the Christmas markets along the Rhine River in Europe. To this day, I encourage anyone and everyone I see throughout the year to make this trip.
Europe’s Christmas markets are Christmas the way it should be…the way it used to be. It just may be the only trip you ever take where bad weather is a plus.
All the markets are similar, yet somehow each has its own identity, its own character, its own personality. Whether you are in a large city or a tiny village, there is a human scale to the markets that make them manageable and easy to visit.
Tucked amid the local crafts, revelers will find pastries, gingerbread, hot spicy mulled wine (gluhwein in Germany, vin chaud in France, glugg in Scandinavia), thick warm salted pretzels and the “wurst” is yet to come.
Most towns center their activities in the main square near a church, and they are typically compact with cafes and pubs nearby so that visitors can duck away from the elements if they choose.
There is usually a manger scene complete with live animals and scattered throughout the maze of stalls, live music can be heard from small duets, trios or quartets. Now and then a market will have a central stage where local choirs and chorales perform.
It’s all very festive where tourists and locals mingle in an infectious oldy-world atmosphere.
If nothing else, however, the European Christmas markets remind us of the spirit of the season like nothing else.
To be sure, the markets have their own share of commercialism, but unlike the vast shopping malls in the States, there’s a quaint cozy ambiance where the frantic hustle and bustle chaos that is so frequently part of the American experience seems to dissipate into a more festive and relaxed environment.
In recent years ALS has certainly infringed upon my life in dramatic fashion. I confess to having once been a holiday curmudgeon myself listening to all the same old boring family small talk and chit-chat during family holiday gatherings. But that has all changed for me now.
Realizing this might well be my last Thanksgiving or Christmas has made me appreciate being surrounded by family all the more.
For sure there are relatives who will forever remain annoying in their own distinct manner and there will always be the ever-present energy of youth running hither and yon in noisy circles throughout the house. At times I feel as though I am the eye of a family hurricane filled with idle chatter and rampant vitality run amok. But you know what? It’s a comfort zone, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
ALS and the European Christmas markets have totally changed my perspective on the holidays.
Here’s a tip, slow down and only burn one end of the candle. That Cabbage Patch doll people were fighting over just a few years ago is, today, little more than a long lost and faded memory.
Kick back, put another log on the fire and set a different and slower pace. Your family will thank you because the dirty little secret is that’s exactly what they crave too.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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