Daylight disappears by 4 pm and temperatures are way below zero.
And yet like many tourists from elsewhere, we have flown from other parts of the world to travel down the frigid Danube to celebrate the Christmas season.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
We arrive in Vienna the day before Thanksgiving as do the fresh firs dressed in tinsel and candy canes. Outside our hotel, tiny fairylights, crisscrossing the Ringstrassen, the main city boulevard.
It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas.
At the town hall Christkindlmarkt, the largest Christmas market in Vienna, we breathe in the scents of the season. Wreaths of pine cones, oranges, cloves, and cinnamon.
It’s beginning to taste a lot like Christmas.
We drink lots of gluhwein and punsch, the kitschy ceramic mugs thawing our ice cold hands, the spiced wine and rum warming us everywhere else.
We munch on zimt sterne, ground almond and cinnamon stars, and lebkuchen, iced gingerbread cookies, and chestnuts roasted over hot coals.
It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas.
At lunch at the Palais Pallavicini, young carolers from Slovakia sing Jingle Bells in English, and Silent Night in the original German.
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, Alles schläft; einsam wacht.
It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
It’s dark at 4 p.m. and it’s bloody cold.
But people are smiling, everyone is extra nice. A young woman makes a puppet talk in falsetto for a laughing toddler she doesn’t know.
At church, I don’t understand the priest’s homily nor the words sung by the Vienna Boys Choir, but their angelic voices make me smile. I don’t speak the language of the neighbor in my pew but I understand when he reaches out to shake my hand and bow his head in a sign of peace.
Life is good.