he local Christmas market opened tonight. It’s an annual tradition in Germany: vendors gather to sell ornaments, toys, Bratwurst, candles, even mead—wine made from honey. A band plays. You know what kind of band: its members range from twelve to sixty, and it’s as good as it can be after a whole week of practice.
I don’t like crowds, but somehow they don’t bother me at the Christmas market. Maybe because the season subdues people. Maybe because people really do pay attention to what Linus says in A Charlie Brown Christmas and at least grant their fellow citizens some personal space.
A man cradled a dog in his arms as though it were a baby. The dog, one that resembled a west highland white terrier, was so adorable I couldn’t resist asking for permission to pet it. The man said it was actually a Russian breed, and rattled off a name I couldn’t repeat. We spoke for a minute. Nothing remarkable about that, except I wouldn’t have asked him the time of day had we met on the street or in a department store. But here was different. The Christmas market does that to you.
I love the smells. It’s a mix of the Bratwurst, sautéed mushrooms, pine needles, scented candles, mead, and Glüwein. The Glüwein smells of cinnamon and cloves, and no Christmas market experience is complete without a steaming mug warming your hands. Sometimes I don’t want to drink it, I just want to hold it, feel its warmth, and inhale that rich, spiced, red wine smell. Scratch that. Of course I want to drink it. But first I want to feel it and sniff it. Ask any American who’s been stationed in Germany whether she likes Glüwein. She’ll close her eyes, make a low, pleasant sound in her throat, and nod reverently.
Writers think about writing on only two occasions: when they’re writing and when they’re not writing. Tonight’s Christmas market was no exception. I thought once again about why I write, and once again I came up with the same old answers. Naturally I want success as I define it, but mostly I just want to live forever.
It turns out there’s yet another answer: because somebody’s got to find a way to describe the combined scent of pine needles and Glüwein for all those unlucky people who can’t attend a Christmas market.
Stephen Parrish is the editor of The Lascaux Review. His most recent publication is The First 100 Words, available from Amazon or free when entering a Lascaux contest.