European Traditions


Christmas Markets

Nicholas Sterling


Christmas is better in these old and charming local markets.


Germany celebrates Christmas with squares, streets and buildings adorned with beautiful decorations. It is a time when every corner is illuminated with lavish and artistic presentations. Additionally, the heavy winter snow creates a white, idyllic and evocative scenery.

But what defines Christmas in this great Central European nation are the local holiday markets, a tradition that dates from the early 15th century. Every town and village has its own, particular market, and most open their doors from the first day of December until Christmas Eve.

In some cities these markets are called “Weihnachtsmarkt” (Christmas Market) and in others “Christkindlesmarkt” (Christ Child Market). These spaces are not only a unique opportunity to buy Christmas decorations or local craft products, but also to see, walk or enjoy the culinary delicacies typical of each city or region.

There are regional dances and choirs singing traditional carols. Typically, families and friends stay until late in the afternoon to drink a glass of glühwein— a hot spiced wine that tones the body and lifts the spirit during the cold winter nights— often accompanied with some of the vast variety of German sausages, like bratwurst, bierwurst, blutwurst, frankfurter and more.

Other delights available in these markets are the famous gingerbread and the leubkuchen— bread made with ginger and other spices that is usually eaten at Christmas time—or a stollen, a cake prepared with butter, nuts, orange peel, candied citrus and spices such as cinnamon and cardamom.

If you love Christmas, you will have a wonderful time visiting some of the oldest and largest markets in Germany in ancient cities like Munich or Nuremberg.

Around Munich’s Marienplatz Square the Christmas market faces the majestic and historic town hall with the largest assortment of Nativity scenes in the country.

To entertain the little ones, there is a “heavenly workshop” where they are dressed in bright costumes and golden wings and are invited to make their cookies. Of course, you will have to drink your mulled wine and eat a Lebkuchenherzen, another ginger cake that usually has inscribed the words “I love you” (ich liebe dich).

Also, visitors come to get the famous Christmas crystal balls, manufactured by craftsmen from Lauscha, a small town in Thuringia.

In Nuremberg, the Hauptmarkt Central Square hosts—every year— one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany, the “Chriskindlesmarkt”. About two million visitors stroll among its 200 medieval looking stalls, where we can’t ignore the traditional fried sausages and the sugar and rum punch.

The opening of the market, on Friday before Advent, is a special event. On that day a multitude of people meets in the market square and in the gallery of the nearby Church of Our Lady, where the trumpets sound at 5:30 pm while a children’s choir sings carols to kick off the holiday season.

This colorful celebration is a magical alternative for the holidays.


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