Musings on Christmas Shopping

Recently there was a very black day; a Black Friday, to be precise.  The shocking images coming from America of people who (for the sake of giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume are fairly sane otherwise) put aside every shred of human dignity to fight over an object they don’t really need just because it’s on sale (and which was most likely marked up in price beforehand…).  This, the very day after they spent time remembering everything they have to be thankful for.  Such behaviour is inconceivable to me.  What possesses people to stampede, trampling others for baubles and trinkets?  The introvert in me rather asks why anyone would want to go shopping on the busiest day in the year… heck, I even avoid shopping on normal Saturdays because of the weekend crowds!  That scourge of marketing tactics is making its way over to Europe as well, but what’s odd about the European version is that there is no “Thanksgiving Day” as it’s strictly an American holiday, so the Black Friday on the following day is completely artificial timing.


Bülach Christmas Market.  Credit:

Personally, I much rather prefer staying home and enjoying a day of rest; it saves me money, time, stress and injury.  If I do any special shopping on the day, it is done online.  Besides, it’s around this time of the year that Christmas markets burst forth; nearly every town in Switzerland has its own market, some larger and more elaborate than others.  This past weekend, we went to one of our favourite local Christmas markets in a town called Bülach.  Vendors might be individuals, or groups such as youth groups, or mom-and-pop co-op businesses.  We tend to buy specialty items, such as gourmet cheeses, smoked meats, spices, honeys direct from the beekeepers, and homemade spiced oils.  Other items I like to look for are nice olive-wood spoons for the kitchen, or handcrafts that I don’t make myself (e.g. metal or glass crafts).  There’s also an Iranian vendor; I always pick up a kilogram of Persian rice (it’s got a basmati/smoky flavour) and an assortment of dried fruits from him.

Besides food items, we look for Christmas gifts for each other; that goes something like this:

 (Me to my husband):  “That’s a nice ring…” (Try it on; it fits).

(My husband) “Go away.”

“I’ll just walk on to the next booth.”

“Don’t look.” (He buys said ring, or something else besides, then joins me at the next booth.)

Along the way, we head toward the whisky shop and the conversation gets reversed – once he’s picked out a possible whisky he’d like to add to his collection, he leaves the shop, and I buy it plus stocking stuffer samplers (Schätzli, if you’re reading this, forget you saw that last sentence…).

In two weeks our own town will be having its market; it’s a time to get out, meet up with friends and neighbours, chat until it’s time to warm up with a glass of Glühwein (hot spiced wine) or hot chocolate, and find our favourite items, stocking up until the next year’s market days.  The walk home is crispy cold, topped off with a hot tea and a cat on the lap; life doesn’t get much better than that.

When you go to Christmas markets, or street markets at any time of the year, what do you look for?  What do you end up buying?  Does your town have a Christmas market?  What makes it special for you?  I’d love to hear about your own experiences in the comments below!


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10 responses to “Musings on Christmas Shopping

  1. Celebrating Christmas in Australia is a bit of a trial. Shopping seems to be the main event. There are Santas everywhere and at Shopping Mall car-parks one is lucky to get out alive. Inside the supermarkets the trolleys are riding roughshod over my ankles, kids are screaming and being wacked by nervous mothers or irate husbands.
    No, give me the first day after the New Year at any time. So nice to have a normal day again.

  2. It’s what we get for living in materialistic societies, I suppose. I get my Christmas shopping done a month or two in advance, so I don’t need to be out in the crowds any more than necessary. I can enjoy the holidays relaxed! I hope you can, too!

  3. Not being American, I never grew up with the concept of Thanksgiving nor Black Friday. I also loathe the commercial mania and opted to join the #buynothingday #blackoutfriday initiative and spend nothing that day.
    I live near Bremgarten which has a charming Christmas market next weekend. People come in busloads from far and wide. I take my turn manning our church’s stand selling Christmassy books, mainly for children.

  4. Love your blog.
    The Christmas market here is a series of scheduled events. A huge village of wooden booths at the spot normally the town market, sells spices, pots and pans, and ceramic jugs, as it has for several hundred years.
    then there are all the food and drink items- gluehwein, alcohol in too large amounts, fried everything, chocolate covered fruit and nuts on sticks.
    every hour one of the local clubs sponsers a small pagent, a choir, etc. on the stage. Mainz is known for heavy drinking and carnival, so the market fills up fast with busloads from the outlying villages every friday sat and sunday. They are usually drunk by eleven.
    we usually go in on a day in the middle of the week, when all is quiet, and enjoy the atmosphere. toward dusk, the lights, draped from a central star make a beautiful tent to look at the sky from under, the antique childrens’ carousel is beautiful, there are hand-made soaps, and dolls and small wooden tree ornaments during the week. And even some very good jewelry artists just getting started so it is not expensive.
    We are apparently like you and your husband with regard to crowds and quiet. The smell of the spices, the sound of the carousel, a contemplative moment under the lights and in front of the centuries old, and now, lately, professionally guarded, wooden manger scene, and we are ready for a good cup of tea, and home.
    And yet, I still would miss it if it didn’t take place. I just wish it hadn’t gotten so commercial.
    Ps didn’t Black Friday used to mean the day the stock markets crashed in 1929?

  5. I grew up knowing the former, but never the latter. If I can talk my husband into another Christmas market besides our town’s, I might just to show up!

  6. I’m on the EG Bremgarten stand on Friday from 11:20 to 16:30. I’d love to meet you.

  7. Thank you for the wonderful compliment!
    Your market sounds lovely, except for the drunken crowds – we’d also go on a weekday; we’re the ones that, when on holiday in a city (such as Bath, England), get up at the crack of dawn to beat the crowds. We love the history and nostalgia without the marketing and tourists…
    The term “Black” has been used for centuries to denote a calamity (e.g. Black Death, etc.); but in the financial sense, it was first used during the 1869 panic. It’s been used since the 80’s to refer to the shopping spree after Thanksgiving (when merchants’ accounts would finally be “in the black” – using black ink to show positive amounts, and red ink to show negative amounts). Though I lived in America until 1988, I hadn’t heard that term until the past few years, when I started noticing it on Amazon.
    This is the first year I’ve seen the term being used by stores here. I ignored them, and did my regular weekly grocery shopping. 🙂

  8. Unfortunately, Friday won’t be possible. But if we are able to go on Saturday, I’ll send you a message on Facebook, and perhaps we can meet up!

  9. We were most fortunate to have a Christmas in Germany in 1981. We loved the Christmas market we went to. One of the things we bought was a carved wooden angel that is still one of my favorite decorations.

  10. Such little things can carry so many memories, can’t they? Thank you for sharing!

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