The concept of the Christmas Market, also known as Christkindlmarkt, Marché de Noël, and Weihnachtsmarkt, dates back to the Late Middle Ages. They originated in not only Germany, Austria and South Tyrol, but also Northern Italy, Lorraine and Savoy.
The “Christ Child Market” traditionally ushers in the holiday season with food, drink and music along with seasonal items and sometimes living nativity scenes. To many, the Christmas season starts when the markets open and remains until the New Year, or even the Feast after Epiphany in the first week of January.
In keeping with the magic of the season, many foods are only available when the markets have signalled the start of the Christmas holiday. We eat gingerbread cookies here, but in Germany they serve soft, warm Lebkuchen and Magenbrot – two types of ginger treats that warm the heart and the stomach. Especially so when consumed with a glass of hot mulled wine called Glühwein that also appears this time of year. Another delightful beverage is Eierpunsch, a drink that’s similar to eggnog but is served warm with a base of wine and tea instead of cream. Another favorite food is Christstollen, a cake-like bread made with dried fruits, nuts and spices. It’s similar to fruitcake made here, but the bread is slathered in butter and sugar when it comes from the oven, creating a delicious sweet coating that keeps the bread moist and chewy.
Although Christmas Markets can be found all over Germany, some are huge favorites and attract both regulars and new converts every year.
Location: Altmarkt Square, Dresden, Saxony
Dates: November 26 through December 24, 2015
The oldest documented Christmas market in Germany is marking its 581st anniversary this year. What began as a one-day event in 1434 has grown to a huge celebration lasting a month and spilling over into many of the streets around the market square. The “Sweet cake Market” sells the popular bread (now known as stollen) and is best known for the creating the world’s largest Christmas Arch every year.
The Striezelmarkt attracts over three million visitors each year to its 250 stands, puppet shows and giant advent calendar.
Location: Römerberg, St Paul's Square and Mainkai, Frankfurt am Main, Hessen
Dates: November 25 through December 22, 2015
Locals believe their market may go back as far as 1393 and was a place for Frankfurt citizens to trade products and prepare for the hard winter. Set against the backdrop of the old, half-timbered houses, the Christkindchensmarktet here is certainly one of the prettiest in Germany. The carillon of St. Nicholas’ Church plays three times a day adding a musical background to the market along with the music form the merry-go-round and the 50 chiming church bells that play for advent and Christmas Eve.
Thousands of lights illuminate the Christmas tree that shines over the 200 stalls selling everything from cookies to art to holiday gifts.
Location: Hauptmarkt, Nuremberg, Bavaria
Dates: November 27 through December 24, 2015
One of the greatest honors a young girl can have is to be chosen to represent the Christkind – the Christ Child – during the annual Christmas Market. The young woman opens the event with a speech given from a high balcony and meets with children during the month. The smell of Nuremberg bratwurst and rich gingerbread wafts over the old quarter and a steam train runs through the children’s market. A popular souvenir is one of the Nuremberg Plum People, little figures fashioned out of prunes. Plastic garlands or any mass-produced goods are strictly forbidden and the city awards the most tastefully beautiful stall with a gold “Plum Person”.
The 180 stalls decorated with lights and fresh greens attract close to two million visitors each year making this one of the larger Christmas Markets in the country.
Location: Marienplatz, Munich, Bavaria
Website: weihnachtsmarkt-marienplatz.de (German)
Dates: November 27 through December 24, 2015
A Nicholaus Market was first held here in the 14th century and the current Christmas Market retains the historic charm of the first festivities. A very popular offshoot is the Kripperlmarkt also called the Crib Market or the Manger Market that has been part of the holiday season since the 18th century. The mangers found here are lovingly created and packed to let shoppers recreate nativity scenes reminiscent of those from childhood.
Close to three million visitors come to Munich to see the 160 stalls of the Christkindlmarkt along with the Kripperlmarkt, the Mittelaltermarkt (Middle Ages Market), the Tollwood Market and other concurrent holiday events.
Location: Munsterplatz, Bonn, North Rhine-Westphalia
Website: bonnerweihnachtsmarkt.de (German)
Dates: November 20 through December 23, 2015
The town hall becomes an enormous Advent Calendar with one more window being lit each day until Christmas. The facades surrounding the square are illuminated and symphonies and choirs fill the air with music. A 280 sq metre ice rink provides the perfect way to work off all those sausages and helps build a thirst for another glass of brandy punch.
The 170 wooden chalets selling crafts and delicious treats like toasted almonds and chestnuts complete the feeling of being immersed in a winter fantasyland.
Location: Marktplatz, Duseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia
Dates: November 19 through December 23, 2015
Most of the city participates in the festivities with multiple theme markets set up along the more popular shopping streets. There are decorated “gingerbread houses” to walk through and plenty of delicious treats to nibble on while shopping for amazing handcrafted gifts.
Over 200 stalls offer delights along with unique gifts at the Engelchenmarkt (Little Angle Market), Sternchenmarkt (Little Star Market) and the other theme markets set up on Schadowplatz, Gustaf-Grundgens-Platz, Schadowstrasse and Flingerstrasse.
Location: Marktplatz, Jena, Thuringia
Website: jenakultur.de (German)
Dates: November 11 through December 22, 2015
The historic market opens with the cutting of a four metre stollen and the fun continues for the entire 28 days. Stage entertainment is scheduled throughout the month and an evening trumpet fanfare reminds everyone that the market is still in town. This is a favorite time of year for many and the stalls are beautifully decorated along with offering arts, crafts and other favorite gifts. Plenty of hot wine and brandy punch is available along with warm baked goods and more filling spicy sausage meals.
This year the market has more than 110 stalls for browsing and several programs for kids that take place during the day.
Many markets around the city
Largest Locations: Cologne Cathedral, Altermarkt, Neumarkt, Rudolfplatz, Heumarkt
Dates: November 23 through December 23, 2015
Cologne is possibly the best place to be during advent as the entire city celebrates the joy of the coming holiday. The Cathedral Market has 150 decorated pavilions and the stunning backdrop of city’s landmark cathedral. The Angel’s Market glitters and shines on Neumarkt while the Old Market on Altermarkt recalls the gentle romance of innocent times. Enjoy a maritime flair at the Harbour Christmas Market, the beautifully decorated Stadtgarten Market and the very kid-friendly Village of St. Nicholas on Rudolfplatz. To travel between the four largest markets take the Christmas-Market-Express through the decorated streets of Cologne’s old city and enjoy some sightseeing while you shop.
Many markets around the city
Largest Locations: Brohan Museum, Charlottenburg Palace, Gedachtniskirche, Weihnachtsrodeo, Schlossplatz, Gendarmenmarkt.
Dates: Varies, but generally November 23 through December 24, 2015
The market at the Charlottenburg Palace is extremely popular and the 150 vendors offer amazing handcrafted delights under the beautifully lit tower of the palace. The Gendarmenmarkt is the place to find hand embroidered linens and watch stonemasons at work. Enjoy jugglers, acrobats and other artists present their talents. With so many markets to choose from, taking one of the many Christmas tours to explore the city is highly recommended.
Have you sipped glühwein at a Christkindlmarkt?
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