Meeting St. Nicholas

I’m still a little under the weather, but I’m not letting it stop me — we’ve only got 3 weeks (eek!) until Christmas, so I had to get stuff done this weekend, regardless.  I crafted an intricate schedule for both Dan & I for the weekend — maximizing time for cleaning the house, getting shopping done, and (hopefully) still having a good time, all while managing both kids.  Of course, by 9:00 Saturday morning, we’d already blown the schedule, but it still got us through the weekend pretty well.  Dan (almost single-handedly . . . or worse, actually, because Liam helped) got the house cleaned up and vacuumed, while I got our Christmas decorations out and got a significant chunk of our Christmas shopping done.

But we didn’t want to have an “all work” weekend — not only is that not a lot of fun (although it can be very satisfying) but the kids REALLY don’t enjoy it.  When we work all weekend, the kids are either dragged along (to the store, to the shops, on various errands), which they enjoy for about 20 minutes, or they get plopped in front of the tv for extended periods, which they enjoy, but which leaves them with TONS of unexpended energy (ultimately leaving them wild or irritable or both).  Besides, it’s Christmastime!  It can’t be all about getting the house decked out — we want to get out and experience things here in Vienna.

So, we did.  Yesterday, we went to the Karlsplatz Christmas market, which I was informed has the best punsch in Vienna.  I’ve only sampled a few selections, but it was my favorite so far.  For the kids, there was a huge play area full of straw, which Benjamin climbed in, nestled into, dug in and threw around.  (The kids all played in it exactly like you’d play in snow.)  They also had pony rides.  Benjamin went twice, and wanted to go again, but we had to go home for dinner.  (Liam was too little for the straw or the ponies, so I don’t think he had a great time.  Poor guy — it’s tough to be little.)

Today, we went to another Christmas market with a very specific goal — to meet St. Nicholas.  I had no idea what to expect — would he have a roped off area with a throne-type of seat where parents lined up for a moment and a photo op?  That really didn’t strike me as a very Austrian approach.  Also, would he be more of a St. Nicholas character, or more like Santa Claus?  If we got a chance to talk to him, would he speak English?  Just to be safe, I explained to Benjamin that I wasn’t sure if St. Nicholas speaks English, since we don’t have him in America (I didn’t want him to be disappointed if they couldn’t communicate).  We got there, and at first we couldn’t find him.  There was no obvious spot, no place for a line or pictures.  We looked around for a bit and then we asked — apparently he’d been seen walking around the market, so we kept looking.  Then, suddenly, he appeared, walking down the crowded street of the market, and came to say hello to Benjamin and Liam.  Benjamin was shocked, and held out his hand to say hi.  Liam smiled, and reached out, too.  This St. Nicholas (who looked very Santa-like, except he had an earring!) didn’t speak English, but smiled and offered Benjamin and Liam each a candy.  Benjamin stood silently and awed for a moment, Dan took a few pictures, and St. Nicholas waved and walked on.

I don’t know if Benjamin really knew what to make of the experience (Liam, who had no expectations that I’m aware of, seemed pretty happy).  I think B was a little taken by surprise at St. Nicholas’ sudden arrival — I think an American-style line of screaming children would have given him more opportunity to prepare himself.  But there was something very personal about it — there wasn’t a long line, a huge chair, or any other kind of “set” behind him.  We weren’t rushed in or out by helpful elves trying to keep a schedule.  It was just St. Nicholas, and my boys, saying hello in a crowded market street.  It was very different than they would have seen at home, and very special.

I’m glad we got so many things done around our place this weekend, but it wasn’t decorating or shopping that gave us the most holiday spirit — there’s nothing better than some warm punsch, playing in the straw, riding on ponies and a visit with St. Nicholas for that.