Monday, December 21, 2009

Freunde, Geschenke und eine Weihnachtsparty.

[ Friends, Gifts and a Christmas Party ]

I have met some great friends while studying in Göttingen, some from around Germany and some in the same position as me struggling with German everyday, living abroad from around Europe through the Erasmus program. The faces will be recognizable from our many spontaneous trips together over the past few weeks, and before we all went our separate ways for the holiday break, we got together to celebrate Christmas our own way.

We all brought fun, semi-homemade gifts for each other, food and desserts to pass and heated up the pot of Glühwein complete with the spices. Even just being in one of the student housing buildings, it still felt so festive with everyone sharing big hugs, brushing the snow off their hair coming through the door with cheerful, "Merry Christmas'! " just like the big family that we have become.

The night was filled with laughs, great stories about how the holidays are just a bit different everywhere else - in Germany, Hungary, Spain, Italy - as well as my unique mix of Polish and American traditions.

The gift giving brought out the best from our inside jokes - mine especially could only be understood within our group, but let me assure you, it is priceless.

Christmas is just days away, but spending it here surrounded by so many different traditions and languages, all within the perfect Christmas setting of Göttingen covered in snow and lit up by the Weihnachtsmarkt, has made me so appreciative of the great friends I have and not only what I am learning here, but sharing as well.

Kellemes Karacsonyi unnepeket,
Froehliche Weihnachten
Buone Feste Natalizie
Feliz Navidad

Merry Christmas!

die Weihnachtsmärkte

[ The Christmas Markets ]

With less than a week until Christmas, there is a lot happening here in Germany. I am amazed myself that the month has flown by since I have been very busy and have also been swept up into the festivities. Amongst hearing about the traditions here in Germany, singing Christmas songs in German class for practice, baking cookies with Inge, picking out the Weihnachtsbaum with the family, the most integral place for the Weihnachts season here in Germany is definitely der Weihnachtsmarkt - The Christmas Market.

[ Streets in Göttingen on the way to the market square where the Weihnachtsmarkt is! ]

The markets have been up since late November and I have been very lucky to see quite a few in quite a few cities in Germany - in fact, I was already seeing the beginning weekends of the Christmas markets when I was still in Dresden, Bonn and Hamburg a while back.

To explain the magic - and I don't use that word lightly - of the Christmas market back home to friends and family is very difficult. The photos I have taken don't capture the feeling of the shivering cold numbing your nose, the festive laughs of the packed crowd bumping shoulder to shoulder with you trying not to spill a valuable sip of warm Glühwein, let alone the incredible smells that fill the area ranging from hot, candied almonds, spiced holiday drinks and steaming stands flipping fresh crepes.

[ Does Santa advertise beer in America? Maybe just Germany... ]

The Weihnachtsmarkt is a great German tradition- and it is an experience that I wish I could share with everyone. Naturally some of the largest and most festive markets are in Bavaria, and the markets definitely give me a feeling like the smells and tastes were when I was in Munich for Oktoberfest. Even so, almost every German city has a Christmas market in the center of town and Göttingen lives up to the very warm, inviting atmosphere it embodies as a bustling University town.

[ The Gänseliesel - the most important statue in Göttingen in the middle of the Weihnachtsmarkt. ]

The magic lies in watching the market evolve over the Christmas season. It starts as a place to meet up with friends, share a cup of Glühwein and chat about our plans later in the month - the weather, a relaxing crisp fall. As the weeks quickly fly by, it becomes a place where I go for a great stroll with my host parents after a weekend together and check out the hand crafted gifts of glass and wood.

Just last week it snowed and the market really came to life for me - and so did the little kid in myself. The lights lining the streets, the people all smiling and bunched together in hearty conversations despite being bundled in thick jackets and scarves from the cold. The little stands become almost cartoon like with their decorations now lined by a dusting of powdery snow - the nostalgia the markets have is unlike anything else.

I am still learning the traditions here in Germany for Christmas - in fact, the tree will go up later this week. The Sebode family is slowly coming together, there are new siblings I am meeting, and other relatives calling in for their arrivals for the holiday. I have been told to brace myself for a difficult time studying abroad and going through the holidays away from home, but I have actually felt the opposite.

I am so fortunate to feel the warmth and togetherness from my great host family and friends here, and I am also so excited every phone call and skype message back home to share the wonder that I am witnessing this December in Europe. There are definitely a lot of strong emotions during this time of year - but I can let everyone know for sure that it has been an incredible growing experience for me and there are so many moments where something reminds me of someone back home that I would also love to share the moment with.