In my novel Revontuli, at Christmas time, the German soldiers of the village organize a Christmas market. Christmas has always been a special time for me – a time for family, a time of celebrating family and friends. Last Saturday we hosted a cookie party for the village children in Simiane. It’s a tradition started by my stepfather John before I was born, and maintained, with his continued support and baking skills, by my Austrian wife and me. Some twenty kids under ten invaded our dining room and kitchen and cut out shapes in the dough, and sprinkled chocolate and glitter over colorful icing.
It seemed as I imagined these German and Austrian soldiers in northern Norway, that the time of year they might feel most homesick would be Christmas, and that they might want to organize a market, like you see in so many German towns. I tried to find some evidence of one from during the war, but came up blank. So I imagined Arnfrid mixing gluehwein, that mulled, spicy, red brew that warms your innards when you can’t feel your toes, and German boys carving wooden toys, much the way a prisoner had carved a wooden horse. I remembered my past trips to Vienna and Munich and the astounding jovial atmosphere of the markets there. How could Karasjok not have a Christmas market? Shouldn’t everyone have one?
If you’re tired of rants about how Christmas has become too commercial, stop reading here.
Two weeks ago in Strasbourg, I watched city workers assembling hundreds and hundreds of little pre-fab huts that were placed on every street of the old town, in preparation for an onslaught of Russian tourists. If you visit Brussels, or Paris, you can come across a growing number of Christmas markets, and be disappointed by surprisingly similar tacky painted wood stalls, bedecked in plastic glow balls and little reindeer. Filled to overflowing with their Asian merchandise, from plastic toys to Indian scarves. They have become so similar I begin to wonder if there isn’t a business behind the installation and rental of these stalls to the same street vendors that sell wares (I am polite) from the sidewalk in the summer. It strikes me that whereas the Christmas market I imagined from long ago was one where all the locals could put something they had done onto the marketplace, today, no one brings their own goods. It is just another venue to encourage us to buy things we do not need. Vendors in the Temple. NO, we don’t ALL need a Christmas market. The Christmas market has become a business instead of a celebration. Too bad.