Germany's 'Christkindlesmarkt' (Christmas Markets)

The Christmas season is quite possibly my favorite time in Germany. There is no doubt that this is a special time of year for a lot of people all over the world, but a German Christmas is truly something a little magical. This is largely thanks to the historic Christmas Markets held in cities, towns and villages throughout the country, casting an enchanting and magical atmosphere during the whole festive season.

Nowadays you'll find Christmas markets all over Europe, but Germany is where they originated and Germany still does them best. The Christmas fairs and markets of Germany are undoubtedly unique. Holding on to its traditions and history, here is where you can escape the commercialism of the holiday period and enjoy a time where Christmas gifts are not mass-produced but craftwork of real quality - well, most of them anyway.

German Christmas Markets date back to the Middle Ages. They were usually held in front of churches and were looked at as part of a church visit. The oldest recorded market dates to 1310 in Munich, Germany. It was called "Nikolausdult" and was very different from the markets of today. Back then, the market was an opportunity for farmers to come to town, do some shopping and at the same time, offer their wares.

The reformation of the church in the 16th century brought changes to the Christmas markets. Nikolaus was replaced by the Christkindl (Christchild) as the gift giver, and the Nikolaus markets became Christkindl markets. This custom began in the Protestant areas of Bavaria with Nuremberg being the first city to call its market "Christkindlesmarkt." Munich, a Catholic city, changed its "Nikolausdult" to "Christkindlmarkt" in 1805.

Despite its quaint appeal, Germany's Christmas markets attract more than 150 million visitors per year throughout the country. Yet even the biggest markets in the biggest cities haven't lost their old-world charm. Wherever it is in Germany, these markets are generally held in the Marktplatz (Town Square). And while they tend to look alike with their decorated wooden huts all lit up with fairy lights and wreathes, they each also have their own unique atmosphere depending on which area of Germany you’re visiting.

A typical Christkindlesmarkt is where you can buy all kinds of Christmas merchandise and gifts, especially traditional items such as crib figurines, toys, wood carvings, marionettes, candles, hand-painted ornaments and much more. You’ll also be hard-pressed to visit a Christmas market without trying a delicious glass of Glühwein (mulled wine) offered in many stalls and many different varieties at every Christmas market. There’s really nothing quite like sipping hot, delicious, cinnamon-flavoured wine while out on a cold winter’s day.

Other traditional food items at Christmas markets include hot chestnuts, grilled meat and sausages, kartoffelpuffer, crepes, langos, waffles, chocolate-covered fruits and treats, a variety of hot soups and many other tasty snacks, filling the air with delicious smells and further enhancing the ambience. Children in particular love the gingerbread biscuits known as Lebkuchen, also a popular Christmas treat.  

With so many Christmas Markets throughout Germany, the most difficult choice for visitors would be which Christmas Market to visit. Well, every German Christmas market has its own charm and specialties and the best solution would be to sample at least two Christmas markets, preferably in a city you already want to visit in its own right, and in a smaller town or village to give you a taste of something a little more quaint and romantic. Many of the smaller towns or villages also tend to have medieval-themed Christmas markets, which is an experience on its own.

I've been lucky enough to visit a few Christmas markets during my time here in Germany, including the one in Baden-Baden, Esslingen, Nuremberg as well as across the border in Strasbourg, France. It will remain a special part of my memories of life in Germany, and I certainly hope it's not the last of it!

(All pictures above taken at the Karlsruhe Christkindlesmarkt this year)


Popular Posts