Christmas markets, two ways

I love the Christmas markets in Vienna.  They’re my favorite part of the Christmas season, and they contribute to Christmas being one of my favorite times of year here.  Last year, we made a point to visit most of the “big” markets, and we plan to revisit all of those this year, and then add a few to our list (I came up with a whole neurotic strategy about it the other day).

But, I think it’s important to note that there are two different kinds of visits that I make to Christmas markets — with kids, and without.  Or, I could say, looking and shopping.  The point is, I learned last year not to expect to really accomplish anything when I go to the markets with the kids in tow.

We tried, last year.  We tried, and we made ourselves miserable.  We’d go to the market, and try to do some actual shopping, entertain the kids, keep them from touching everything, have something to eat, ride the rides, look at the lights, and have a holly-jolly time.  We’d end up saying “no” to the boys 4,000 times — about things we wouldn’t buy them, things they couldn’t touch, eat or play with.  They had to hold our hands, or we had to hold them, or we had to bring the stroller so one of them could ride AND we’d have a place to stash our purchases while still keeping our hands free to keep the kids from grabbing everything out for display at the market stalls.  By the end of half an hour of this craziness, we’d all be crabby, the kids would be crying, and no one would be having the least bit of fun.

But, we figured it out.  After a handful of charming trips like these, we changed our tactics.  When we went to the markets with the kids, we went to enjoy ourselves.  We’d explain to them ahead of time that they wouldn’t be able to touch the things in the market stalls unless it was welcomed (it is at some toy shops).  We’d explain that we weren’t going to buy toys or hats or clothes for them while we were there, but that they were welcome to show us the things that they liked the best.  We explained they could each pick out ONE TREAT while we were there.  We would plan to ride the train OR ride the rides OR go on the pony rides OR walk around and look at the lights.  And then we’d go, and spend about half an hour doing just those fun, kid-friendly things.  We’d keep it simple — eat a treat, look at stuff, go on a ride, go home.  Short and sweet, with something to enjoy and not too much to tolerate.  Not too many “no”s.  And it became fun to go again.  Sometimes we’d find something unexpected, like live music, or room for the kids to run and play, and we’d end up staying longer, but we always called it quits at the first sign that it was starting to become a chore instead of something fun.

And then, if we wanted to shop, we’d make a different kind of trip entirely.  Typically, either Dan or I would go back and make a “surgical strike” to pick up just what we had seen that we wanted to buy.  Or, a few times, one or the other of us would go on our own and spend an hour or so having a lovely time browsing and shopping with our hands free.  And, one lovely morning last year, a friend of ours came over, and watched Benjamin while Dan & I took Liam (who was asleep in the stroller) to a market and we shopped for a few hours, very peacefully.  (The moral of the story is, grown ups like shopping, kids really don’t . . . especially when it isn’t all for them.)

That’s the plan again this year.  Some of the markets are more fun to explore with the kids, and others have better shopping.  We’re not going to try to be “efficient” (which never works out anyway) when we do this.  We’re either going to go and relax, have fun all together as a family, or go and shop and “accomplish” something.  It just didn’t work out well to try to mix the two.

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