Having spent my whole life in the south and/or the midwest, I sometimes take for granted certain regional institutions or customs that my coastal pals find alien. I have to remind myself that not everyone has ready access to Chow-Chow Relish or chicken finger restaurants, and that when I drop references to these things, I may need to explain exactly what they are. On the other hand, sometimes I assume things to be regional that turn out to be more common than I’d thought. So consider this blog post the first in an occasional series in which I try to determine—with your far-flung help—whether what I see around me every day is what you see around you.
Today’s example: Christmas markets. Are you familiar with this concept? I just became aware of them last year, as a byproduct of trying to find something “fun” and “holiday-ish” to do with my kids on a December weekend. The basic premise of a Christmas market—at least as I’ve experienced them—is that you pay an admission fee at the door of some church, school, or community center, for the right to peruse the wares of local craftsmen and hobbyists. Some of the items for sale are Christmas-y (like ornaments or stockings or red-and-green wall-hangings), and some are just items that might make good stocking stuffers (like homemade dip-mix or handcrafted jewelry). On their own merits, these markets are a fine thing. The markets keep money in the community by offering one-of-a-kind presents that don’t come off an assembly line.
But whenever I walk into one, I’m reminded of all the bait-and-switch Christmas events my mom dragged me too when I was a lad. I sympathize now with a parent trying to kill an afternoon (and maybe make a memory along the way), but when I was a kid, my holiday spirit dimmed every time I piled into the car under the premise of “Hooray, Christmas!” and ended up looking at, say, tree-decorations from around the world. And yet here I am as an adult, singing carols in the car with my 8-year-old and 5-year-old in order to get them pumped-up to spend an hour slumped against the wall of a church while their parents ask a local farmer’s wife to describe her peach salsa. It’s like taking the whole family to the county fair and never getting past the merchant booths.
I understand a little better now why my mother hauled us out to The Trees Of Christmas or some gussied up hobby shop (or what-have-you) every year. Partly it was a distraction, and partly it was because she wanted to see them. And I wish I could go back and see them too, now that I’m old enough to appreciate the time and effort that goes into staging events like these, and the care put into the items on display. My hope is that someday, decades from now, my kids will be swapping Christmas stories with friends and they'll roll their eyes and say, “Oh man, my folks used to take us to these Christmas markets every year, where there was nothing to do and we couldn’t touch anything.” But then, after a beat, “They had some neat stuff, though.”
So, anyway… Christmas markets. Do you have this where you are?