... for Christmas Markets.
I just put Spotify on to listen to Christmas music, and there’s a spate of Vienna Boys Choir carols that just came on.
It reminds me of when Mom and I went to Vienna for the Christmas market back in the ‘80s.
We stayed at the Imperial (woo hoo) and were able to secure a few sets of tickets to traditional Viennese music events: the Volksoper (Folk Opera) was playing a silly but fun operetta called “The Tour Guide.” We also had seats for a Christmas concert in the Wiener Musikverein (the famous “Vienna music hall”) which started at 10 p.m. Neither of us made it to the end.
The third pair of tickets was for the Sunday service in the Royal Chapel of the Hofburg Palace.
The resident choir there is the Vienna Boys’ Choir.
The regular attendees to the Chapel get to sit down in the main floor of the church and watch the priests do their thing.
We had to settle for the upper loft.
This allowed us to see the boys up close and personal. On an early Sunday morning, they all looked as though they’d just gotten out of bed: their hair tousled and sleep still in their eyes.
But let me tell you about the sound that came out of that choir loft.
I swear someone had opened a door to heaven, there came such an angelic noise.
I’m a little weepy just remembering it (music does that to me).
Anyway, ever since that trip to Vienna, I have always thought it a special treat when I get to visit a Christmas market: Vienna, Prague, Cologne, Bratislava; even here in Banská Štiavnica and our own little village of Svätý Anton.
Scott just returned from the one in Prague. He was there last year with our friend Annabel. I was at the Bratislava and Vienna markets with her then too. And the year before, my friends Ailsa and Jens met me in Vienna for the opening.
Vienna has several big markets including one between the Natural History and Art History Museums and out on the grounds of Schönbrün Palace. The main market is on the front park of the Rathaus (town hall), an impressive building in its own right – a neo-gothic meringue, they make into a giant Advent Calendar each December. There’s a skating rink, some real comfort food and some of the best Christmas tree ornaments you’ll find in the world, many hand-blown.
And then there’s gluhwein.
In Slovakia they call it punč. In Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm they call it glögg. In Tallinn they call it hõõgvein (you need a couple before you can pronounce it).
Hot mulled wine.
In Tallinn, any café or restaurant selling hõõgvein lights a lantern on the doorstep, so it’s easy to find.
Whatever market you visit, it is an indispensable component when you’re strolling around in below-freezing temperatures, taking in the festive atmosphere.
In both Vienna and Cologne, when you buy a cup of this essential winter elixir, you pay a deposit for the ceramic mug it’s served in. You carry the mug around with you all over the market and can get a refill in the same mug. If you want to keep it, just take it home (you’ve already paid the deposit) or you can give it back to any stall selling wine and get your money back.
(We have half a dozen so we can drink our homemade hooch in style.)
And not all the beautiful food is in the markets. Here is my friend Annabel outside the December window at Demel (confectioners to the Emperor).
That life-size princess is entirely edible.
Vienna embraces the season:
So does Budapest
Bratislava spreads its market out between the main square and the square between the National Theater and the American Embassy:
The market here is especially good for aromatic wreaths and other hangings (and a handmade boar or two:
Handmade linens can be found at our own market here in Svätý Anton:
And sales of the punč (punch in English) at the Svaty Anton market support the local hockey club.
You gotta love that: a village of 1,100 has a hockey club.
This of course requires us to donate generously. We walk down to the village and home so that we can enjoy the festivities – and support the team.
Our mayor dresses for the occasion every chance he gets. He helped us improve our road so that we can drive up and down during the winter, even when the snow is heavy.
And of course it’s always wonderful to see the children dress up for the annual Christmas pageant:
Prague may perhaps have one of the prettiest settings for their market:
But I think St. Nicholas and his troupe have the most fun in the Banská Štiavnica Christmas market:
Whatever market you find yourself in this season, may you enjoy it as much as I do.