A Tale of Two Christmas Cities

The year I turned sixteen, I spent part of a hot, dry July, travelling around Germany. While it was sort of enjoyable in an I-am-getting-some-life-experience kind of way, I have to be honest: having just flown in from fabulous France, the relative blandness of Deutschland was really not my scene.

While travelling through Bavaria, sardined into a double-decker tour bus with 69 other teenagers and living on Coca-Cola, Pringles and Haribo gummy bears, we came to the town of Rothenburg ob de Tauber.

These were the days before the iPhone (we still had discmans), so we had to rely on the rather sparse printed itinerary given to us, which unhelpfully described the town as ‘an ancient gated town’. Drunk with fatigue, busting to go to the loo, and sick to death of seeing hundreds of ancient gated towns all over Europe, all we wanted was a half-decent public toilet and a sandwich.

What we got instead, was Christmas.

In the middle of summer, half a year away from December, behind unassuming wooden gates, this medieval town was celebrating Christmas with the kind of gusto that most cities around the world can barely muster just once a year. And they have been doing it every day of the year for centuries.

Festively adorned shop fronts – original structures dating back to the Middle Ages -line the cobbled streets, selling a cornucopia of Christmas delights, from decorations and trinkets to traditional German Christmas fare. Carollers sing on street corners, Santa rides through the town and life-sized wooden soldiers march on the streets daily.

Having had a childhood of white Christmases (or what I thought of as ‘real’ Christmases), I had no idea that Christmas in summertime could be anything other than half-hearted. But, for the three hours that we were in Rothenburg, it really was Christmas.

Rothenburg

Every year since, I have spent summer Christmases in the Supercity, always feeling a little cheated by the lack of pomp and fanfare. But, nearly a decade later, I am finally spending my first December in Hamilton, despite having lived here for five years.

For me, the lead-up to Christmas in Hamilton has been a wonderful meshing of the traditional and the modern. During the day, the CBD is alive with the sounds of troupes of children, kitted out in red and white, singing and playing Christmas music on Garden Place. Santa’s elves wander around spreading Christmas candy and joy. Office workers spend their lunch breaks on Ward Street, playing mini-golf under gigantic Christmas baubles. Even the homeless sit on the main street, Santa hats perched on heads, and wish you a very merry Christmas.

Christmas in Hamilton

As the sun sets, red and green arches light up along the main streets, leading the way to the tree on Garden Place. Spending warm nights on-street dining on Victoria Street, watching the spectacular nightly neon light show emanating from New Zealand’s tallest Christmas tree is reminiscent of summer evenings spent on the Seine, watching the dancing lights of la Tour Eiffel.

The hustle and bustle of the city lasts well into the evening. Every bar and restaurant from Bryce to Hood Street seems to have its own brand of Christmas cheer and families, friends, co-workers, lovers and everyone else in between are more than happy to participate. Cheerful Christmas music floats out from every establishment, and somehow, even on the most humid of nights, singing along to ‘Winter Wonderland’ does not seem out of place. I am enjoying Christmas without even trying.

When I have wanted to try, I have made the most of the smorgasbord of options that December in the Tron has presented me with, from the incredibly cute Christmas markets on Casabella Lane to my very first pantomime, Cinderella. This weekend, I am looking forward to taking the free bus (that is dressed up as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer!) to see the decked-out mansions at Harrowfield, and then spending a romantic evening picnicking under the lights at Templeview -a Hamiltonian fixture, I am told. Sneak peeks of Trees at the Meteor, on Twitter, promises a fusion of Yuletide and contemporary art, followed by hot chocolate and carols at St Peters.

I am excited. This year may not bring a white Christmas, but it will be a real Christmas, and most importantly, this time it will last longer than three hours.

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