The Christmas Market is a market held in the town marketplace or central streets and traditionally opens with Advent, or the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day. Christmas Markets began in the Late Middle Ages in the German speaking part of Europe and are also known as Christkindlmarkt, Christkindlesmarkt, Christkindlmarket, and Weihnachtsmarkt.
The Dresden Christmas market, first held in 1434, attracts between 1.5 and 2 million visitors a year and has over 60 stalls. Another ancient market is the Bautzen Christmas market which was first mentioned in records in 1384. The December Market in Vienna was a forerunner of the Christmas market and dates back to 1294. Christmas markets are traditional in Alsace (an area of France with a heavy German influence) and most towns in Alsace have their local Christmas market. Strasbourg, France has been holding a Christmas market, ‘Christkindelsmarik,’ around its cathedral since 1570, when it was part of the Holy Roman Empire.
The markets sell food and drink from open-air stalls with other seasonal items. Popular attractions include the Nativity Scene, carved Nutcrackers, candied toasted almonds, traditional Christmas cookies made out of soft gingerbread, a sweet bread with candied fruit called Stollen, and Bratwurst. Traditional drinks are Glühwein, hot mulled wine, and Eierpunsch (an egg-based warm alcoholic drink) to help shoppers and stall owners keep warm in the cold evenings. Many handmade items, toys, books, Christmas tree decorations and ornaments and often other bric-a-brac can be found at a Christmas Market.
Famous Christmas markets are held in Erfurt, Nuremberg, Dresden, Stuttgart and Augsburg. These have become popular to visitors from many other countries. Large Christmas markets are also held in many towns and cities in the United Kingdom. The largest of these are in Leeds and Birmingham, where traders from Frankfurt make up the majority of the stall holders. German immigrants also brought the concept of the Christmas Market to the United States where it has become very popular.
Other cities in Europe with popular Christmas Markets include:
- Berlin with over 60 markets across the city;
- Oslo with its snow covered trees and horse-drawn sleigh rides;
- Nice where the casino gardens are filled with stalls and entertainment and the old town has windows decorated with nativity scenes;
- Paris’ Boulevard Saint Germain and Place Saint-Sulpice are lined with markets where you can browse while sipping vin chaud;
- Brussels hosts an annual Winter Wonderland at the Place Sainte Caterine;
- Munich has a traditional German Christmas Market with typical Bavarian touches.
The Christmas Market is a beautiful, evolving tradition and an enchanting way to begin the festive season. Most towns and cities in Europe have some sort of market, and listings can usually be found in local papers or notices posted at central locations such as post offices, town halls, schools or other central businesses. Many shops may also advertise the markets as they will most likely have a stall in the local market.