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We had a special Christmas treat today. Coleman’s Park — a city park dedicated to the memory of the Coleman family, our own local “Rockefellers,” — hosted the fourth annual Lebanon Christkindlmarkt.

Christkindlmarkt is a German tradition going back to at least the fifteenth century. According to one website, every German town hosted temporary markets throughout the seasons, the most lavish being the Christmas market. Martin Luther himself promoted the practice of giving gifts to children at Christmastime, telling them the gifts were from Christkindl — the Christ Child. Many Christmas market vendors offered toys and treats, benefiting from this new tradition. Before long, the two were inseparable.

Lebanon’s Christkindlmarkt is the perfect way to kick off the Christmas season. Even though cold breezes tugged at the few leaves too stubborn to fall, plenty of people came out to stroll from stall to stall, looking for that special gift. Vendors offered everything from scented candles and glazed pottery to handcrafted jewelry and stuffed snowmen. As their customers watched, florists hand-built wreaths, swags, and centerpieces from fresh evergreen branches, holly, pine, spruce, and ivy. Hints of coffee and hot chocolate drifted on the breezes. Carolers sang to the crowd as the Moravian star was lit, symbolizing the Eastern star of the Nativity. Friends stopped to talk, catching up with each other while family members dropped gift hints as subtle as bowling balls falling from the sky.

Wait, who was that, strolling through the crowd? That fur trimmed robe, the heavy staff decked out with sleigh-bells, spectacled eyes peering out over a thick snowy white beard, an intriguingly lumpy sack over his back … Could it be? Was it possible? Yes, it was! Saint Nicholas was here!

Saint Nick had arrived, but there was no sign of that other German Christmas visitor, the Belsnickel. What a relief! The Belsnickel is not nearly so much fun as Santa. He’s a grumpy, crotchety, old traveler, dressed in dirty, worn-out furs, carrying a bag of fruits, nuts, and treats for good little children … and a switch for bad little children. He’s loud, he’s scary, and he’s a pushover, once you get past the bluster. As it turns out, the Belsnickel was feeling poorly this year and had to stay in his hovel.

I’d love to hear about your holiday traditions. What do you do for the season? What makes it special?