Grown Up Advent

One Sunday night a couple of weeks ago, we went to the Advent Market at the Freilicht Museum in Stübing outside of Graz. At 4:30 a group of us bundled up and met to walk around the old houses, view the crafts and partake of punsch and cake. The sun was setting–and setting really fast as it is wont to do around here in the winter– as we walked up the path to the first house. Inside was a group of people singing Christmas songs. Led by a mellow fellow in traditional garb, people with songbooks sang sweetly, the sound of their voices hung in the air, crystaline, distinct–almost like another entity joined us from…Christmases Past.

We continued on our trek that night, visiting lace makers, potters, candlemakers, blacksmiths and the like. It was all very charming and traditional (we have the same kind of place in Santa Fe–Las Golondrinas–check it out if you ever visit) and extremely Austrian. It was nice.

But all I could think of after visiting several old Austrian farm houses was how cold everyone must have been in the old days. Cold, man, really cold! And dark, really dark. If you are more than 4 meters from the fireplace you are going to be cold, baby. Teeny windows, teeny doors. Cold people. And hardy; hardy, strong old Austrians.

The whole experience that night really made me feel far from home; it was so different from America. I mean, first off, unless it is a football game, you never get Americans to go outside at night in the cold. No way. We might drive around in our cars with the heater running to look at Christmas lights or maybe go to the mall and pretend we are walking around in some Disney-inspired Christmas landscape—but actually go outside in the cold? No chance.

And the Advent Market was sooo dark, lit only by the moon and a few dim lanterns. At one point while walking down a dark path we had to put our arms out to keep people walking toward us from bumping into us. It was that dark–we couldn’t see anything. Would that happen in America? Not possible. Think of the liability if someone fell. We sue each other at the drop of a hat. Public spaces are designed so we can’t hurt ourselves if we try. Bright lights, railings, locked doors, unopenable windows. We design our public spaces for two-year-olds. It is quite different here. It is assumed people will take responsibility for themselves. What a concept.

I have to admit, though, that my favorite part of the market was the fire logs! (OK, maybe I am uncultured) Hollowed out logs set on end, on top of three or four stones (for air flow), and lit by a smoldering stick. The log burns from the inside out, creating a fast burning, hot flame that shoots out the top–looks like the flame from a rocket engine. These were really cool and we all stood around drinking punsch and trying to stay warm.

Little Ronja looked like a giant M&M in her orange snowsuit, but at least she was easy to keep an eye on. We all had a good time and I really appreciated being here in Graz–it is so wonderfully, old-fashionedly Christmassy.

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