A tradition from the 14th Century … Christmas markets

by Melinda

Let’s face it. Nearly every American Christmas tradition can be traced back to Europe.

But here’s one from Germany that hasn’t made its way to the New World (at least not as far as I know): Christmas Markets – Weihnachtsmärkte.

I’ve discovered that they can be traced back to at least the 14th century. This is a 700 year old Christmas tradition!

Markets were held at various times of the year for a variety of reasons (e.g., harvest, Christmas). Vendors and craftsmen brought their wares to town and people bought what they needed.

At the Christmas Markets people bought everything they needed for the Christmas celebration.

This included items such as baking moulds, decorations, candles, and toys for the children.

In fact, until well into the 20th century, the Christmas markets were the only way people could buy these seasonal items.

Today the Christmas markets are generally held throughout the Advent season in German towns and cities of nearly every size. And the town square is where you’ll likely find them.

Here during the time of year when the nights get longer and longer the Christmas market brings the town alive with lights and activity.

Music, crafts, and gifts abound. Christmas tree decorations, seasonal items, and handcrafted articles such as wooden toys and hand-blown glass ornaments, are also sold. Plus there’s plenty of beer, apple cider or glühwein (hot mulled wine).

And of course, what social gathering would be complete without food?

Just as in America, the food you’ll enjoy is the hearty traditional fare of whatever region each Christmas market is located in.  Backed goods and plenty of sweets including gingerbread hearts, sugar-roasted almonds, crepes, cookies, stollen, cotton candy and more.

That’s not all that varies from region to region within Germany. Many of the Christmas markets are well know for a particular theme, product, or display. For example:

Erzgebirge mountain range region – their handmade wooden crafts are famous

Karlsruhe – is known as the fairy tale Christmas town. The trees gleam with thousands of ice crystals. And in the town square are amazing sculptures of glass and light that brighten the night. You’ll also find arts and crafts and incredibly decorated wooden cabins.

Augsburg – a life-sized Advent calendar and its famous “Angel Play”.  (Follow the link to learn more about the Advent calendar Christmas tradition and see a photo of a full-sized home as an Advent calendar.)

Frankfurt – known for its “little prune men” (Quetschenmännchen) and “almond cookies (Brenten)

Heidelberg Palace – plenty of hand-made crafts from textiles to wood and glass are found here at Heidelberger Schlossweihnacht (Heidelberg Palace Christmas). And as with all markets there’s music and food including Flammkuchen (the local version of pizza).

Mannheim – this large city has two markets. The one at Kapuzinerplanken offers unique gifts from over six dozen vendors with an extraordinary array of arts and crafts gifts.

I could continue, and I probably will talk about more of the markets in another post. But for now I recommend you consider a future visit to Germany during Advent to enjoy the Christmas markets. A wonderful and delightful Christmas tradition that’s over 700 years old.

Related posts:

Over 15 Christmas traditions to learn about

Christmas recipe and tradition of eggnog

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