Christmas in Europe was nothing like I expected.
It was much, much better.
I spent a little time in three beautiful countries. I lived with the locals who were my friends, family, and previous travel companions. They showed me all of the secret spots for the best medieval markets, late-night pubs, and traditional festivities.
The German Christmas markets, or “Deutsch Weihnachtsmarkts”, were by far my favorite experience. Streets wafting with the aroma of cinnamon-apple Gluhwein led me down the lightly snow-covered cobblestone alleyways through a maze of wooden stalls offering everything from candles and decorations to leather jewellery. I wasted days and evenings sampling bratwursts, home-made schnapps, and roasted almonds before cuddling up with a locally-brewed German beer in one of the countless packed pubs.I guess I always had a negative view of Germany. It’s really not fair: it all goes back to Hitler and WW2. My German friends were open to discussing the past with me, but I could feel hesitant guilt edge every word. German people today take responsibility for a dark past that many foreigners find it difficult to ignore. The majority of German’s suffer from extreme discrimination—even if it is carried out subconsciously or discreetly.
In spite of a global negative image (or perhaps because of it) I have found Germans to be exceptionally warm, welcoming, and charismatic. The landscape itself is nothing spectacular, but the brown-trimmed white houses and cobblestone streets scream “Deutchland” in a majestic, powerful fashion. German food is dense, warm, and thoroughly enjoyable. German’s work hard and rest happily. Every local I have met has been quick to share every provision with me—from food to shelter from friends all the way to a free souvenir from a proud shopkeeper.
I can’t help but wonder how different my life might have been if Hitler had been born in Canada. Everything would have been different if this one man had been North American—perhaps the war never would have happened, perhaps the outcome would have been completely different, perhaps we would all be Nazis today. Of course, everyone is quick to deny that they would have ever joined his torturous reign. We will never know what might have been because it is extremely easy to say you would have done the right thing when you are not in the moment that requires it.
After a short stop in Sweden, I was welcomed back into Norway where I tried something new every day: from kiting to riding in an English saddle to being pulled up a mountain behind a car in a toboggan (sorry mom). I partook in Norwegian Christmas traditions such as tree-decorating with flags and fake candles, and indulging in a sweet porridge in search of a special almond to claim a prize. The majority of the customs were quite similar to Denmark’s, where I spent Christmas day with my cousins. The five of us enjoyed a dinner of duck with all the trimmings before dancing around the Christmas tree singing carols and finally ripping through some wrapping paper.
My European adventure has proved successful in many ways, and although there have been ups and downs—as there is to any story—I am no where near ready to kiss this continent goodbye.
So, instead I’ll say “Bonjour”, and settle myself in to the French alps :)