Any visit to Europe over the Christmas period will invariably run into one of the numerous Christmas Markets scattered throughout the continent. Although traditionally associated with the Germanic states, they can now be seen from the Atlantic to the Black Sea.
Christmas markets are street markets and normally run for the four weeks of Advent leading up until Christmas. Historically they date back to the late middle ages and traditionally come from areas that were associated with the Holy Roman Empire. at that time this included not only the German speaking parts of Europe but also eastern regions of France as well as parts of Switzerland. The oldest known of these markets was the Vienna ‘December Market’, considered to be the forerunner to the modern Christmas Market which shows up in documents dating back to 1294.
The markets are normally held in a town square, and nearby areas, with the stalls selling food & drink as well as seasonal & local items from open-air stands. In many towns, opening night sees the town welcome the ‘Christkind’, traditionally the boy Jesus, but often depicted as an angel-like girl, a part which is acted out by a local child. The most famous of these is the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremburg, Germany.
Attractions & Stalls
Although the markets vary from country to country & region to region, several attractions tend to be present at all of them. These include a nativity scene, zwetschgenmännle (figures made of decorated dried plums) & nusscracker (carved nutcrackers).
Many typical German foods are also on sale such as bratwurst (pork sausages) and beer. The cold weather however sees many seasonal specialities including gebrannte mandelin (toasted almonds), lebkuchen (soft gingerbread) as well as glühwein (hot mulled wine) and eierpunsch (warm eggnog) which all help to avoid the winter colds. Along with these many regions have their own specialties such as stollen (bread with candied fruit) in Saxony & apfelwein (apple wine) from Hesse, Germany. There are also many stalls selling Christmas tree decorations, ornaments, handmade toys as well as books and games.
Many of the markets attract millions of people each year making them popular tourist attractions during the Christmas season. Some of the more famous ones are:
Attracts more than 3 million people each year
Has more than 3.6 million visitors each year as well as over 300 stalls all centre around a giant 45m (150ft) Christmas tree.
4 million visitors each year
The Christkindelsmärik has been held around the cathedral since 1570, making it one of the oldest in Europe. The name is in Alsatian dialect.
Insight Vacations offer specialist Christmas Market tours such as:
Alpine Christmas Markets
Christmas Markets of Austria & Bavaria