Is it really December already? It’s starting to get really cold here. We even had our first snowfall on the last day of November. I woke up, crawled out of bed, dragged myself to the window, opened the blinds, and behold! A winter wonderland 🙂

You can’t really tell in the photo, but the quarter-sized snow flakes here are definitely the biggest and softest snowflakes I’ve ever seen. I love the snow for the winter-y feel and views, but I also love it because it means the temperature can’t be too low (yay science). That was a few days ago, though. Now, there isn’t much snow on the ground, and the temperature drops to the low 20’s at night. That’s not including the humidity that makes you feel the coldness in your bones. Anyway, I always say I don’t have a favorite season since I like to enjoy each one for what it is, so that’s what I’m trying to do. This will definitely be the coldest winter I’ve ever had, though.

The absolute best part about all the cold and the snow is CHRISTMAS TIME! The Advent season has begun which means lots of Christmas decorations and lots of Christmas markets. I had never heard of these markets before I came here, but they’re supposedly famous. They have several throughout Graz, but I’ve also gotten to see other markets on a recent trip to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Each city has it’s own unique style which is shown in everything from the types of foods and items sold to the color schemes of the little huts. For those of you who, like me, had never heard of the Christmas markets, I’ll go ahead and describe them.

These markets are open every day starting in the afternoon until as late as midnight and even later in big cities. There were a lot of international tourists at the one in Prague, but the one in Graz has mainly locals and local tourists (by local tourists, I mean people from neighboring towns and villages who come to Graz for the festivities since it’s the nearest city). The markets are usually in some sort of plaza or pedestrian area, and they are comprised of a whole bunch of little huts that look like this.

There are usually at least a dozen huts depending on the size of the market, and they have everything from food to souvenirs. In Graz as well as other places, there are also some markets that sell hand-made goods like hand-knitted sweaters and hand-carved wood pieces. There are even markets that sell “Lebkuchen” shown above, which is decorated gingerbread. One thing all the Christmas markets have in common, though, is that most of them have food, and all of them have drinks.

Waffles in Graz

 

Waffles in Prague

Onion cake thing in Bratislava

Raclette!

I guess I wouldn’t go to the markets for a meal, but there are a bunch of snacks like “Raclette,” which is a type of hot cheese served on bread. They also have sweet waffles with different sauces and jams and even crepes. The most popular thing to do at these markets, though, is to drink, and the most popular drink of all is mulled wine, or “Glühwein” in German. It’s a hot wine red wine infused with spices and flavors. They also have hot chocolate and tea which they often serve mixed with a shot of liquor, although you can definitely get it without it. You can also find nonalcoholic punches and ciders at some huts, but not many. When you order a drink, you pay an extra 2 or 3 Euros as a deposit for the mug, which you get back once you return it. Also, notice the paper plates instead of plastic? Europeans are so environmentally conscious.

It’s interesting for me as an American to see all this alcohol being sold in the open like this since drinking in public is so taboo in the US. In addition to the different social norms, liquor laws and licensing would make it pretty much impossible for markets like this to exist. I imagine if Christmas markets did exist, there would be a small little fenced off area where you could buy alcohol. I also imagine that it would be filled with really loud obnoxious people who have had too much to drink. Anyway, I doubt it would happen. It seems like people here handle their alcohol a lot better. Yeah there was a small group of teenagers one night that caught my attention, but other than that, the markets are filled with people hanging out, talking, having a drink, and getting in the Christmas spirit! Aside from being surrounded by cigarette smoke, it’s a really nice atmosphere. A couple nights ago, they even had live Christmas music during an event where the mayor came out, gave a speech, and lit up the Christmas tree.

Graz Christmas Tree

Graz City Center and Market Area

Prague Christmas Market

Little Hut in Prague

 

Bratislava Christmas Market

So when you go to a Christmas Market, you pretty much get really bundled up, go out, have a waffle and some cider (spiked or un-spiked or however you like it), and you browse around looking at the booths while spending time with friends. Another cool thing is these markets are open and filled with people every single day of the week. Even on Monday nights, they’re packed with people!

For many people here, Christmas Markets are synonymous to Christmas time. One of my friends from Switzerland was so surprised to learn that we didn’t have Christmas markets where I’m from. She thought it was an international thing, and that every town had Christmas markets because it wouldn’t be Christmas without them. I think the closest thing I’ve felt to this is at the mall or in Uptown on the weekends in December. I love seeing all the nice Christmas decorations and the happy people going shopping to buy gifts for their loved ones. It’s not really the same, though. I wish we had Christmas markets in Albuquerque so everyone could have a place to go out and spend time together during the Holiday season.

On a different note, one thing that’s not different from the US is that every year around this time, my to-do list gets longer. Classes started getting more demanding, and I am now faced with several assignments, presentations, and exams standing in between me and Christmas break. On the bright side, though, after this week, I only have one more week before my three week holiday! I still haven’t decided what I’m doing or where I’m going, but I will definitely make a post about it when the time comes 🙂

Festive train in Graz