“There is no ideal Christmas; only the one Christmas you decide to make as a reflection of your values, desires, affections, traditions.” — Bill McKibben “Make sure your children have traditions to remember and build on!”
Beginning December 1st the Christmas spirit descends on the towns and cities of Germany in the form of Christkindlmarkts featuring wooden stalls laden with, toys, pretzels, wooden decorations and baked goodies of all shapes and sizes, including stollen.
There are more than 130 places in Germany that host Christmas markets, many in Austria and some good ones in Brussels, Prague and Copenhagen all focusing on regional specialties and local flair. It has developed into an art form, with elaborate nativity displays, handcrafted wooden ornaments, and scrumptious treats that would certainly tempt Santa and his reindeer to spend a little extra time at your house.
Nuremberg and Dresden compete for the position of oldest and most famous Christmas market. And although the markets have grown into major international tourist attractions, They also draw from locals and visitors from all over Germany and neighboring countries. The Markets draw from centuries of German Christmas traditions; in a country where the Protestant Reformation took root and where the current pope was born. Some customs date back to the Middle Ages.
Dresden, boasts of the Striezelmarkt, the oldest documented Christmas market in the country, dating to 1434. It is the home of the largest “Christmas pyramid” — a 45-foot-high wood structure lit with candles that spin the tiers of the decorated pyramid.
Actual pyramid and a miniature made out of gingerbread (Lebkuchen)
The tradition for Christmas wood carving comes from the Erzgebirge, or “Ore mountains,” an old mining region south of the city that borders the Czech Republic. Nutcrackers and “smoking men” incense holders originally were created here.
The Stollen Festival is another highlight of the market, with the largest loaf of Christstollen — a buttery, spiced loaf weighing between 3 and 4 tons — which was cut here and served to visitors Dec. 4.
In Nuremberg in Bavaria, the city’s Christkindlmarkt is perhaps the most famous of all the markets, counting some 2 million visitors from Japan, the United States, China, all over Europe and elsewhere around the world every year.
They come for the Lebkuchen, a spicy gingerbread baked here since 1395, and “3 in a Weggla,” tiny Nuremberg wursts served three little sausages abreast in a bun with spicy mustard. The Christkind, an angelic or fairylike character, is the symbol of the market, and a woman with golden hair and a crown opens the market each year with her Christmas proclamation and hears the Christmas gift wishes of the children.
In Frankfurt am Main’s historical center, the Dom Roemer transforms from its post-World War II reconstruction of history into a wonderland of carousel music, bundled groups of people laughing around cauldrons of hot spiced wine called Gluehwein, and thick clusters of gingerbread hearts laden with hardened frosting.
In Aachen, bakeries offer their famous Aachener Printen gingerbread and marzipan bread. In Berlin, the 17th-century Charlottenburger Palace is brilliantly illuminated behind the market, and the Jewish Museum hosts a combined Hanukkah-Christmas market with kosher delicacies.
The popularity of the Christmas markets has spread around the world, inspiring copies in Britain, the United States and elsewhere.
The German American Chamber of Commerce was inspired to create a market in Chicago after Nuremberg’s Christkindlmarkt, and even has the Nuremberg’s former Christkind, Eva Sattler, an original Nuremberger, opened the market with a traditional proclamation.
Top Christkindlmärkte in Vienna (Wien), Salzburg, Innsbruck and Linz The centrally located Salzburger Christkindlmarkt, held on the Domplatz (Cathedral Square) and Residenzplatz (Palace Square), takes place in the vicinity of the city’s cathedral. The twin-towered cathedral, known locally as the Dom-Kirche, was designed Santino Solari and built between 1614 and 1657. It is one of the earliest twin-towered churches north of the Alps, and seen as one of the finest examples of early Baroque architecture. It makes a fine backdrop for tourist snaps of the Christmas market. Evening carol concerts are held on the steps of the cathedral, contributing to the seasonal atmosphere around the stalls
GERMANY’S CHRISTMAS MARKETS: Find information about hundreds of Christmas markets and other holiday events in Germany at http://tinyurl.com/5c9n9d. It features a map of cities with markets with links for more information.
RDO: Six of the Best Christmas Markets in Europe
Christmas markets have been a highlight of the winter season since the Middle Ages and today they continue to light up old city centers all around Europe. Home-made food, warm mulled wine and handcrafted tree decorations and ornaments are all part of the charm along with carol singing and street musicians all adding to the festive community atmosphere. Here are six markets where you can experience the Christmas spirit to the full.
This German city has no less than four Christmas markets around the city which attract up to two million visitors during December. The city’s old cathedral is one of the most visited monuments in the country and its most famous market is the Am Dom, a bustling, candlelit market with over 150 stalls set against the backdrop of the cathedral’s spires with a towering, glowing centerpiece – the town’s Christmas tree.
A smaller market takes place on the cobbled square of the Alter Markt close by, there’s a merry-go-round, puppet theatre, Santa’s Grotto and stalls packed with gingerbread, sweets and handcrafted toys – it’s definitely one of the markets that’s most fun for children.
There are few cities more beautiful than Vienna when it snows and its Christkindlmarkt by the Town Hall is the city’s showcase Christmas market. It starts early, in mid-November, and continues to draw the crowds year after year. Millions of visitors come from all over the world to experience the magic.
During the Advent season, Vienna is ablaze with activity, including nativity displays, seasonal plays and concerts. The Christkindlmarkt stalls are lined with candied fruits, candyfloss and roast chestnuts and simple gifts such as beeswax candles; the small wooden stalls give the city a nostalgic feel of bygone times.
The first record of Dresden’s Christmas market dates back to 1434, making it the oldest one on record in Germany.
This is the place for Striezel – or Stollen which is a traditional Christmas time fruitcake now sold all over Europe and baked in the form of a loaf and dusted with icing sugar. Dresden’s residents take their Stollen very seriously and celebrate with a Stollen Festival, held on the second Sunday in December. In the 16th century, the Stollen bakers would present their handmade cakes to the local prince, who would cut them into slices with a five-foot knife and distribute them to the poor. The tradition has changed somewhat today – this year, as in the past, a 3,000 kilogram cake will be paraded around Dresden accompanied by the town’s own “Miss Stollenmadchen”, the Stollen beauty queen.
The market is pretty and old fashioned, with around 250 stalls where you can browse traditional German Christmas wares, including colourful hand-blown glass baubles from the town of Lauscha and hand-fired blue and white ceramics from Saxony.
The much-photographed Grand Place or Grote Markt in Brussels becomes centre stage for its Christmas market at this time of year and it’s a good one for food gifts. Along with the mulled wine you’ll find beautifully wrapped clusters of the chocolates Belgium is famous for, hot plates of moules and Belgian speculoos which are a type of biscuit gingerbread shaped like Santa Claus.
Another attraction is The Fish Market. This transforms into the city’s Christmas ice rink; the skaters are surrounded by jugglers, street musicians and painters all sharing the festivities.
The Czech capital is beautiful any time of year, probably more so at Christmas. The city puts on plays, concerts, folk displays and its Christmas markets are family affairs, dotted in and around Prague.
While the snow shows off the city’s cobbled squares and fairytale buildings , and carol singers provide the soundtrack, visitors have rows of colourful wooden stalls to browse and explore, which sell hand-carved puppets, candles, jewellery and toys.
Another picturesque setting, this time it’s Copenhagen. This Christmas market will delight lovers of glittering lights and outdoor skating. Held in the Tivoli Gardens, the place becomes a sparkling silvery winter wonderland decked out with hundreds of Christmas trees and half a million lights. The main lake doubles as the city’s winter skating rink and there are about sixty colourfully-painted stalls, all selling locally-made porcelain, wooden dolls and typical arts and crafts.
Copenhagen’s version of mulled wine is glögg, a warm heady wine mixed with liquor and spices – perfect for those sub-zero temperatures. Sip it with some hot apple dumplings as you wander the stalls, pose for a quick pic with Father Christmas and mingle with Denmark’s famous Christmas elves – called “nisser” – all festively dressed in red.
The American version of a permanent Christkindlmarkt is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan… which lasts year round
Christmas City – Lehigh Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau
For a true Christmas vacation, there are few places as caught up in the holiday spirit as Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, aka Christmas City. Here are tips on planning a trip.
Bethlehem was founded by Moravians on Christmas Eve 268 years ago, and the city’s traditions have been rooted in Christmas ever since. There are many activities wonderful for holiday visitors, from a host of Christmas events to holiday shopping to horse-drawn carriage rides to a Christmas market.
h/t to RDO, Bronner’s and Suite 101
“Christmas–that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance–a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.” …Augusta E. Rundel