Sunday 27 November 2022

Advent 1: A Market For It

Here we are again. It’s almost Christmas and I’m beginning my annual Advent series. Last year I looked at various seasonal characters who were either gender-variant, had changed gender over the centuries, or were played by people of the opposite gender. This year I’m looking at what some members of the lgbt community do to keep the Christmas spirit going.

There’s only really one place to go to in order to celebrate a traditional Christmas – Germany and Austria (that’s two, I know, but they share many cultural elements). No-one does a traditional Christmas better than them, and they have already started with one of the seasonal events they created – the Christmas Market.

Some cities now have regular lgbt Christmas Markets held at the same times. Here are three German/Austrian lgbt markets and a Christmas connection for each host city. Let’s start with the city which claims to have held the first ever seasonal market, Vienna.

VIENNA – The forerunner of the modern Christmas market was the December or Winter market. The first of these was held in Vienna way back in 1296. Permission to hold a special market was granted by Emperor Albrecht II in order to allow local people to stock up on goods to get them through the winter. Today the Vienna Christmas market is the biggest in the world, comprising of several separate markets held simultaneously.

The first Vienna lgbt Christmas market appears to have been in 2014 under the name of Pink Christmas. As well as the usual gift and food stalls there was plenty of entertainment. The market was held in the heart of the city’s gay village in the Naschmarkt area. The market was held again in 2015, but it seems to disappear after that.

Another way that Christmas can be made special is by celebrating it for the first time in a new home. One Viennese resident did just that at Christmas 1928. He was the famous gay philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). The new home in question still exists. It is situated a 9 Kundmanngasse and is still known as Haus Wittgenstein.

It was Ludwig’s sister Margaret who commissioned the building. She asked Ludwig to help in the design and he took great pains to get the details right, taking a year just to design the door knobs. When it was completed it got a mixed reception from the family. Half of them liked it, but the other half didn’t, including Ludwig himself who said it was too austere.

In 1968 the house was sold for demolition, but it was saved by the Vienna Landmark Commission who declared it a national monument in 1971.

MUNICH – We move to Germany and the city that hosts one of the most popular Christmas markets. It is also, probably, where the first lgbt Christmas market was held in Germany. Founded in 2005 Munich’s Pink Christmas market has been held continuously (covid permitting) ever since. It is held in the Stephanplatz, south of the old city – next to a cemetery!

Speaking of cemeteries, just across the River Isar from Stephanplatz is another, the Ostfriedhof cemetery. There you will find the grave of gay fashion designer Rudolph Mosshammer, who was murdered in 2005. Rudolph exhibited one of the most desired traits of the Christmas season, charity. He made a fortune designing clothes for the rich and famous, and he realised that with that wealth he could do some good for the less fortunate.

In August 2000 Rudolph founded Licht für Obdachlose (Light for the Homeless), an organisation which donated money, resources and equipment to Munich’s homeless charities. Every year Mosshammer hosted a lavish Christmas party and shelter for the city’s homeless and destitute. He also gave huge amounts of money to alcoholic treatment clinics and personally sold the German version of “Big Issue” on the streets.

Rudolph Mosshammer’s example of charity at Christmas has been mirrored by both millionaires and the modest incomed all around the world for a very long time. Long may they, and we, continue to do so.

HAMBURG – The lgbt Christmas market in Hamburg is called Winter Pride. It takes place in the St. Georg district, the city’s gay village. The modest sized Winter Pride also had music and DJs at the weekend, turning it into an outdoor party (other lgbt Christmas markets have regular music and entertainment). It is also one of the longest running, having first been held in 2009 with just a mulled wine booth.

When it comes to Christmas not only do we think about others, but we also wish for peace around the world. This was seen most significantly during World War I with the Christmas Truce in the trenches in 1914. During that same Christmas Hamburg was also involved in a desire for peace. It came from members of Germany’s women’s suffrage movement. One of the leaders was Hamburg-born Lida Gustava Heymann (1868-1943).

As soon as war broke out in 1914 there were many who called for peace. The women’s suffrage movement was just kicking in across the world at this time, and many suffragettes led these calls. Lida Heymann was one of them. She belonged to a wealthy Hamburg merchant family, no doubt very familiar with the city’s annual Christmas market.

With her life partner Anita Augspurg (1857-1943), Lida founded the Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1902. They both corresponded with other suffrage leaders around the world, and it was a letter that Lida wrote to the American suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt that prompted women in the UK to write the Open Christmas Letter in 1914.

Carrie Chapman Catt published Lida’s letter in the December issue of “Jus Suffragi”, the journal of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. British suffragette Emily Hobhouse responded by organising the circulation of the Open Christmas Letter which was signed by 101 British suffragettes, including the lesbians Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper. It was published in the January 1915 issue of “Jus Suffragi”.

This Christmas, as another war rages in Europe, we all hope for peace.

I was going to end with a YouTube video of a Christmas market, but then I thought of something I came across a couple of years ago. How many of you have heard of a 2015 comedy horror film called “Krampus”? Have you seen the trailer? Blink and you’ll miss it, but for one second, 7 seconds into the trailer, the 2014 Nottingham Christmas market flashes on screen. If you don’t believe me, read this. No-one was more surprised than the city council to see it appear in a film trailer. Here’s the trailer. See if you can pause it at the right moment.

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