My memory starts with an old man.
He wears a dark blue gown, trimmed with off-white fur. Both of his hands grasp a long shepherd’s staff, and his white beard flows in the imaginary breeze. His long blue cap, also flowing, is decorated with constellations.
This is Father Christmas and he is staring at me from a German billboard advertisement.
I look from the advertisement to my plate of latkes, fried potatoes pancakes. I wonder why someone put applesauce on my plate to go with it.
My mother calls, and I quickly stumble (seven-year-olds don’t walk as much as stumble) across the cobblestones to rejoin my family.
We only visit the Trier Christmas market once a year, and I don’t want to ruin anything.
We pass rows of wooden stalls which display carved toys, Christmas decorations, and even chocolate-covered frozen fruit. My dad buys a chocolate-covered banana for my sister and I to share.
Jaunty Christmas music with German lyrics I cannot decipher drift alongside us as we walk.
No matter how far we venture into the forest of stalls, I can always feel the buildings above us. Houses with shingled green roofs, a shopping mall front, and a cathedral tower stare down at the marketplace like benevolent giants.
Once my family finishes eating, we make our way toward the tower. I don’t know it at the time, but I’m about to enter the oldest cathedral in Germany.
Inside, everyone stops talking.
No one tells us to be quiet, but the cathedral’s interior commands silence. The red stone walls seem immovable, the reliefs engraved on them radiate solemnity.
The ceiling arches are so high up I feel less like an ant, more like a dust mite.
Yet I don’t feel frightened; the twinkling prayer candles and the mid-afternoon sunlight create a sense of peace.
Moving through this cathedral, I feel I am in the presence of something powerful yet safe.
Very real, very powerful, very present.