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Lycoming College students spearhead introduction of authentic German Christmas market to Williamsport

Lycoming College students spearhead introduction of authentic German Christmas market to Williamsport

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An intermediate German class at Lycoming College has taken on a community-based learning project that will introduce an authentic German Christmas market to the Williamsport community. The market will be held in conjunction with Williamsport’s December First Friday and annual Christmas parade events.

Intermediate German 112/225, a course led by Len Cagle, Ph.D., associate professor of German at Lycoming College, focuses on the development of interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational communication, and incorporates cultural and short literary readings, as well as the study of German films. Conversations with Caroline Payne, Ph.D., associate professor of political science at Lycoming College and director of the office of community based learning, got Cagle thinking about different ways that students could give back to the community while still meeting the requirements of the course.

"...the Christmas market is an interesting idea because it is very important to learn culture along with language."

“Culture and language are intrinsically connected. You can’t teach one without teaching the other. This includes everyday culture, so I’ve always incorporated a mixture of topics and activities from everyday life in German-speaking countries — shopping, advertisements, public transportation, and so on — into my teaching while also making connections to pop culture,” said Cagle. “With the intention of embracing a community-based learning project this semester, I decided to have the intermediate students learn about German cultural festivals generally and then focus on Christmas markets, especially the best-known ones in Nuremberg, Heidelberg, and Dresden. I wanted the students to get a holistic view of what a German Christmas Market is, its history, and traditions, but also focus on regional and cultural differences between markets in order to be able to make informed recommendations to local organizations and the mayor’s office regarding our new Christmas market.”

Students in the class began by studying other German folk festivals, as well as the Christmas markets in Dresden and Nuremberg. They examined organizational plans for the events, and traditional foods, music, cultural activities, wooden huts for vendors, and more. One of the more ambitious ideas explored is the construction of a traditional Christmas pyramid or “Weihnachtspyramide” to serve as a grand centerpiece for the market.

Once the research was complete, the class presented its findings and recommendations to the City of Williamsport, including the Williamsport Business Association and Mayor Derek Slaughter. In the coming months, the City will determine which of the authentic German activities will be included, such as a procession of lanterns, activities for children, stage performances, and music coordinated through Patrick Chiu, Ph.D., assistant professor of music at Lycoming College.

Marta Contreras Pérez of Seville, Spain, who served as the Fulbright Spanish language teaching assistant at Lycoming College during the 2023-24 academic year, understands the importance of integrating culture with the study of a language. During her time at Lycoming, Contreras also brushed up on her German skills. “When I came to Lycoming, I was trying to pick up German again, and the Christmas market is an interesting idea because it is very important to learn culture along with language,” she said. “The Christmas market is something everyone can enjoy because it’s about food and a holiday that many people like to celebrate.”

“I can connect personally to the idea of a German Christmas market. I love and want to be a part of the culture of Germany and share that with people in Williamsport,” said Noah Huffman ’26, who is majoring in both Accounting and German, from Montoursville, Pa. “I really enjoyed studying the topic in German, and then communicating the concepts in English, making it more digestible, and presenting it to the City. It’s a really important skill to learn.”

With the next holiday season just around the corner, Cagle’s fall semester class will get involved in the execution of the event, once specific activities have been determined.

“I would love to see this event really take off and draw folks to Williamsport from neighboring areas to experience an authentic German market. It’s a really wonderful way to begin the holiday season!”

The Office of Community Based Learning at Lycoming College supports faculty efforts to effectively integrate service-learning, community-based research, and class-community exchanges into their courses in order to provide students with exceptional learning opportunities at the local, state, national, and international levels.