Fröhliche Kriskringlestag!

Me, Osterholz, Germany, c. 1988. Somebody's about to get a face full of schnee!
Osterholz, Germany, c. 1988. Somebody’s about to get a face full of schnee!

I’ve been to Bremen,Germany several times, mainly on guided school trips depending what was being studied, and a couple of jaunts around with the family unit, but it was the regular all-school trip to der Marktplatz on Kriskringlestag that excited me the most. My first recollection that Tuesday at the Kriskringlemarkt was of the air of happiness. Everyone was out with their families, everyone was smiling, laughing. We were lucky it hadn’t snowed that day, so the air was typical Norddeutschland cool for the year, and it wasn’t uncomfortable to be out. I thought it impressive that the German schoolkids my age weren’t out on a class trip like we were, they were out with their parents. Their parents and grandparents didn’t go to work that day.

I remember grouping in the marktplatz, our instructor offering firm warnings and descriptive consequences if we misbehaved, and then, we were released into the public space. These moments were wonderful opportunities to indulge in wandering. In typical fashion I broke off from the group, and got the lay of the land.

Roland surrounded by Christmas season decorations. From 1988 visit to Kriskringlemarkt.
Roland surrounded by Christmas season decorations. From 1988 visit to Kriskringlemarkt.

One of our trip assignments (of course, we had to work) was to visit the booths and engage the vendors in German, which, looking back, I am so glad my instructors required this. This was 1988; I was 11 years old. So I had to practice manners, structured German, and international diplomacy in one fell swoop. No wonder I don’t get stage anxiety now. Thanks, all my teachers between 1987 and 1990!

If you know your world history, Bremen is and still remains to be a large commerce hub. But here in one of the German benchmarks of international commerce, you didn’t feel that stuffiness, that air of self-import, that braggadocio that comes from competing markets. No, not on Kriskringlestag.

Each vendor I engaged was an artisan in his or her chosen craft. I recall visiting a cuckoo clock stand, a marionette maker, a doll house display tent (little girls love houses!), all made from hand. There wasn’t any pretense to the work, either. I remember picking up a wooden recorder and admiring its smooth and shiny surface, the precision of the holes cut along it, then looking up to the vendor, looking down at it and me with an undeniable pride.

Knowing me, I probably spent more Deutschmarks on brötchen and wurst than gifts for my family, but I’ll always remember how community-centric this event was. That stuck with me as paramount, and why now, I don’t get into any of the American celebrations. They’re too cold, too marginalizing. There’s no sense of community, no remembering the basics of humanity. Let’s use this holiday to be together and to enjoy the act of gift giving as a celebration of culture, not a celebration of excess.

When the stress and overspending get to be too much for observing, I find my quiet space and think about those days in the Kriskringlesmarkt.

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