Christmas markets, also known as Christkindlesmarkt or Weihnachtsmarkt, depending which part of Germany or Austria you’re hailing from, aren’t just about market stalls and shopping in the run up to Christmas. Going back to medieval times – when people would travel to find festive cheer in the bright Christmas lights, bustling street stalls and delicious snacks to pass the winter blues – central European Christmas markets have been drawing travellers since the 1400s.The same sites of medieval Christmas markets continue to hold some of the world’s finest winter festivals, with festive gifts and seasonal produce and drinks flowing, as you wander snow-lined streets checking out the market stalls for traditional, often handmade, goods. Bautzen, Erfurt, Berlin, Augsburg and Vienna hold some of the best and most famous markets, while Nuremberg and Dresden attract around two million visitors each, every year. Stuttgart and Dortmund each draw in excess of three million tourists, seeking traditional German Christmas cheer. Designed to keep up festive revellers’ resilience to the snowy cold, Christmas market treats include seasonal cookies, such as gingerbread and stollen with marzipan, sausages or bratwurst washed down with festive beers and ales (try ‘currywurst’ – it’s delicious!), hot mulled wine and eggnog like eierpunsch.
Christmas presents on offer are especially perfect for children, including novelty toys and hand-crafted gifts for small- (and also big-) kids. Children are sure to be dazzled by the lanterns, Christmas lights, candles, streamers and Christmas tree decorations, reflected in the snow and making for the most attractive holiday shopping destinations.Not to be outdone, other Christmas markets around the world include Tivoli in Denmark (see top photo) and, the much younger version of a Christmas market, having been running for around 15 years, Christkindlmarkt in Chicago in the USA. Taking their cue from the old Medieval markets, different cities all over the world are making their mark with festive stalls and events. Tivoli and Christkindlmarkt are perhaps two of the best ‘new’ Christmas markets, although Tivoli has been an amusement park since 1843 – so it’s newness is only in relative terms to its German and Austrian neighbours!
A stunning landscape garden full of rides and rollercoasters, lakes and trees, for Christmas, the whole of Tivoli is illuminated. Danish nisse – Nordic pixies from folklore – hide around the gardens and themes for the annual market have included scenes from The Nutcracker and other popular tales in Denmark, such as those of Hans Christian Andersen. There are fireworks displays and light shows, and Father Christmas is ready to meet children visitors. If you have kids, Tivoli really is the perfect Christmas market, with its enchanted, fairylike gardens and all the charm, food and stalls of a traditional German market. Be sure to try Glogg, the Danish version of mulled wine.Further afield than Europe, it seems the USA is catching up to European enthusiasm for Christmas markets, as the Christkindlmarkt in Chicago suggests. Sausages, potato pancakes, waffles, spiced German Gluhwein and candy are all on often, modelling itself on the classic German approach to festive treats while shopping. There is a real emphasis on handmade quality goods at the Chicago market also, with vendors demonstrating skills such as woodcarving, right by their stalls.