The sign declared, Bitte Esel nichtfüttern, and in Germany, the land so famously-known for its rules, I obliged.
Even though visitors to the Christmas Market in Oberammergau, Germany were asked not to feed the photogenic donkeys (to keep the live Christmas props from developing upset stomachs), rubbing of the animals’ cotton ball-like ears seemed to be encouraged. Before I approached the stable, I had even noticed that Saint Nicholas was giving the cuddly beasts a head massage.
We had merely set out on a routine errand to find a hair stylist and pharmacy in Oberammergau, Germany. Instead, we found ourselves pleasantly distracted by something quite out of the ordinary, at least for us: the soothing, foghorn-like sound of Alphorns, playfully known as ‘Ricola horns’.
On the eve of December 6th, as a young girl, I placed my shiniest shoes in front of my bedroom door, anticipating the arrival of Saint Nicholas. The next morning, I eagerly popped out of bed, delighted to find my footwear stuffed with oranges, Christmas cookies, chocolates and tiny trinkets. St. Nick didn’t visit most of my classmates’ homes but I suspect he visited mine because of my family’s German ancestry.
Last night, in homes throughout Germany and other corners of Europe, many children prepared for Sankt Nikolaus’ arrival in much the same way as I used to. Legend has it that ‘good’ children will find their footwear overflowing with sweet treats and small toys. Naughty kids, on the other hand, are only gifted a bundle of twigs.
Santa Claus is believed to have developed from this custom, with stockings overtaking shoes as a vessel for holiday goodies.
This past weekend, we had our first sighting of St. Nicholas, braving frosty weather to partake in Oberammergau’s Christkindl Market fanfare. While a choir sang holiday tunes in German and English, revelers warmed their hands by swirling mugs of ruby-red Glühwein (literally ‘glow wine’ — a hot, mulled wine beverage with red wine and spices).
Stands staffed by hearty residents of all ages overflowed with a blend of culinary offerings such as homemade donuts, heart-shaped waffles, cakes dusted with a snow-like sugar, plump bratwurst and golden schnitzel. Some catered to the holiday gift shopper, while one stand offered attendees the chance to guess the weight of meat prizes. As the afternoon progressed, more and more snowflakes danced down from the sky and young girls dressed like angels handed out flyers for upcoming community holiday events.
With rosy cheeks, noses befitting Rudolph, and toes and fingers slowly turning into icicles, we headed home to warm up.
With Oberammergau’s Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) just around the corner, we will continue to usher in the holiday season in the coming days. In the meantime, to combat the cold and deluge of snow we’ve been receiving the past days, we’ll break out our own bottle of Glühwein at home, while toasting to the holidays. If you’d like to make your own Glühwein, do try the recipe that follows.
Cheers & best wishes for a happy holiday season!
Today, St. Nick stuffed our shoes with German chocolates and oranges. If you celebrate Saint Nicholas Day in your home, what type of goodies did St. Nick leave you or your little ones? Will you be going to any Christmas markets this season?
Finally, if you’re inspired to warm up with a cup of Glühwein, do check out this simple recipe in the BBC’s recipe section.
Where in the World?
The town of Oberammergau is located about 90 km (55 miles) southwest of Munich. Oberammergau hosts a Christkindlmarkt each winter. The Christkindlmarkt takes place the first Sunday of Advent. Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) are held in other towns in the region. See the Ammergauer Alpen site for specific details.
To get to Oberammergau by rail or by bus, consider getting the Bayern or Regio Ticket (website in German, but you can use Google Translate). These special tickets start at €20/25 for one passenger, and cost €6 for each additional passenger. You can use them to travel via bus and train throughout much of the region, making them a better deal if you want to make a few stops in a day. You can purchase tickets online, via a ticket machine, or in person.
T’was Christmas Day in Cambodia… The sun shone brightly overhead. Golden grass and towering palm trees danced in the strong gusts of wind. Cows mooed and baby chicks tiptoed about.
Though we were far from our family and friends who are scattered throughout the world, we yearned to have a special holiday. And indeed we did, surrounded by our new Cambodian friends, as well as an adventurous and kind couple from France.
On Christmas Morn, on a family compound in Cambodia’s Takeo Province, we learned how to thresh rice. Following our bed & breakfast owner’s cousin’s cues, we thrashed the dry bundles against a table comprised of thin wooden slats.