At a Christmas market

by Terence MacNamee

Everywhere in the German-speaking world there are Christmas markets. There used to be a few well-known ones. These became a tourist attraction. Now every city and town in the German-speaking world wants to get in on the act. In Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Alsace, streets and squares of old cities are lined with brightly-lit booths selling seasonal merchandise and street food. The “old town” or historic centre of cities and towns, with narrow cobblestoned streets and squares with old buildings, provides a perfect backdrop for these things. When you see strolling minstrels performing, you could think yourself back in the Middle Ages. Even in the most Scrooge-like mood, one could not fail to get into the Christmas spirit walking around one of these markets.

In Chur, where I live, there used to be the Andreasmarkt, which was held on the feast of St Andrew, November 30, and that was it. Now an expanded market goes on until Christmas. Glühwein steaming in vats, and Bratwurst roasting over charcoal grills are the characteristic smells. The weather is cold, and you see folks in warm coats and tuques. You see St Nicholas but only on December 6th, his feastday. The eve of each Sunday of Advent is announced by trumpeters playing from the steeple of a city church. The idea of the Christmas market seems to appeal to people and you see plenty of shoppers.

In the meantime, world news has caught up with Christmas markets, given what happened at the one in Berlin. At the Christmas market in Basel, where I am now, there are ominous security precautions. Concrete blocks have hurriedly been put into place in the access streets, making it impossible to drive trucks onto the Cathedral Square, where a major part of the market is set up. It seems absurd to think of Christmas markets in conjunction with murder and mayhem, but that is the situation that has arisen.

There is an effort to maintain normality. The people are not staying away, either. They like to go. Christmas markets have become part of the Christmas season. When people can get together in open spaces on particular occasions of the year, it gives a feeling of good neighbourliness and encourages civic spirit. Yet clearly there are those in our midst who think that because people elsewhere in the world are suffering – which they certainly are – there should be suffering here too.