The magic that is Christmas is drawing near once more, and from November onwards the Christmas Markets are setting up to welcome visitors for the festive season. Traditionally one thinks of Germany when conjuring up Christmas Markets, but there are now Christmas Markets and Christmas Festivals held throughout Europe and, indeed far beyond, as people of all nations celebrate this wonderful romantic time of year.Christmas is a romantic, and reflective, time when the people you meet seem to be a little bit friendlier, the world seems to be a more hopeful place and even the coldest, snowiest of days feels crisp and cosy. It is a time of warming spicy aromas, candlelight, Christmas Carols and blazing log fires, and above all it is a time to spend with family and loved ones and where better to go than to one of these traditional Christmas Markets and leave the worries of the outside world behind, if only for a short while.
A Christmas market, also known as Christkindlmarkt, Christkindlesmarkt, Christkindlmarket, Christkindlimarkt, and Weihnachtsmarkt, is a street market associated with the celebration of Christmas during the four weeks of Advent. These markets originated in Germany, but are now being held in many other countries. The history of Christmas markets goes back to the Late Middle Ages in the German-speaking part of Europe, and in many parts of the former Holy Roman Empire that includes many eastern regions of France. The Christmas markets of Bautzen were first held in 1384. Dresden’s Striezelmarkt was first held in 1434. Frankfurt was first mentioned in 1393, Munich in 1310 and Augsburg in 1498. In Austria, Vienna’s “December market” can be considered a forerunner of Christmas markets and dates back to 1298.
In many towns in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, Advent is usually ushered in with the opening of the Christmas market or “Weihnachtsmarkt”. In southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria, it is called a “Christkindlmarkt” – in German this translates as “Christ child market”. Traditionally held in the town square, the market has food, drink and seasonal items from open-air stalls accompanied by traditional singing and dancing. On opening night at the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, and in some other towns, onlookers welcome the “Christkind”, acted out by a local child.
Attractions and stalls
Popular attractions at the markets include the Nativity Scene, Zwetschgenmännle – figures made of decorated dried plums, Nussknacker – carved Nutcrackers, Gebrannte Mandeln – candied, toasted almonds, traditional Christmas cookies such as Lebkuchen and Magenbrot – both forms of soft gingerbread, Bratwurst, and for many visitors one of the highlights of the market: Glühwein, hot mulled wine – with or without a shot of brandy, or Eierpunsch – an egg-based warm alcoholic drink. Both help stave off the cold winter air which sometimes dips below freezing. More regional food specialties include Christstollen, a sort of bread with candied fruit in Saxony, and hot Apfelwein and Frankfurter Bethmännchen in Hesse.