And I remembered the third weekend in December back in Tübingen, Germany, where I spent twenty years of my life. It's a medieval university town with its typical old buildings that look like they're straight out of a fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers. Narrow lanes wind among those houses and cars are not allowed within the city center. It's a huge pedestrian zone that makes wandering the old alleys so peaceful.
This is the setting for one of the most beautiful traditions of the town: the Christmas Market. It's nothing like its big siblings in Nürnberg, Stuttgart or München and so many other cities. First, it only takes place from Friday to Sunday and not weeks and weeks and weeks. Second, it's not commercial. There are tons of local artists who sell their work, school classes who raise funds for their annual end-of-the-year trip, small local environmental groups who fight for preservation, neighborhoods who try to raise awareness and money for the disabled - the list could go on and on.
So that's the eye-candy. The next is the food - just one word: delicious. The food is mainly local specialities, the best time to eat "Bubaspitzle mit Sauerkraut" (a thin rolled kind of potato pasta with sauerkraut and sometimes bacon), one of my fondest memories in the food department. There was a guy with a complicated portable special oven who made Swiss Raclette that was to die for. Of course there was Glühwein (mulled wine), very welcome in the cold. None of the food or the drink was allowed in any kind of plastic or paper container, everything had to be re-usable! So you bought a beautiful mug with the words "Tübinger Weihnachtsmarkt" written on it and this could be refilled at any booth that offered Glühwein or juice punch (I still have half a dozen of those mugs - each year has a different color). Most of the plates were eatable - envision big sturdy waffles for apple strudel! No trash!
Throughout the market you could listen to music. Children were singing, little choirs stood at the fountain in the market square, someone played the violin, another one the bagpipe, and again another one the flute. There was a cantata concert in the main church. There were jugglers and clowns. It was a very festive atmosphere.
We felt like community, we were community. People spending three days in the cold in order to help someone else. To serve others. To share stories. To entertain children and their stressed parents. To bring smiles on the cold faces, red cheeks from the mulled wine.
That third weekend in December, no matter whether the sun was shining, it was raining or snowing, was spent in the streets among those medieval buildings. It was freezing cold - always. But everyone was there. Community.