Text and photos by Betsy von Atzigen, from Christmassy Swiss & Deutschland
Europe popularised the festive winter celebration of people at a Weihnachtsmarkt or Christmas street market.
History points to Dresden, Germany as one of the earliest traditional Christmas markets in the late middle ages. Today, one finds them anywhere and everywhere in Europe – on cobbled streets, by the lake, in large and small train stations, in museums, around castle grounds, in old and new Markplatz Squares and more.
Fa la la la la la la la la la humming this traditional Christmas carol immediately evokes that wintry Christmas excitement within.
What do people look forward to before Christmas in Europe?
Christmas-decorated stalls and outdoor bars abound in a typical Weihnachsmarkt or Christmas market. German, Swiss, and Austrian Weihnachtsmärkte offer Glühwein - heated mulled wine or sweet spiced cider, and for the kids, orange punch or apple juice and hot chocolate to keep warm. Some shops do sell the mugs you drink on as souvenir of the visit. The mug stays as a conversation piece years after.
As you walk along, there are lots to nibble on like grilled sausages and noodles, pork roast from the rotisserie served with potatoes and sauteed onions, local specialities like cheeses, salami, ham, pickles, and olives. For the sweet tooth, try the different stollen - fruit cake, lebkuchen - gingerbread, candy apple or the famous Swiss Magenbrot - bite size ‘stomach bread ‘ of wheat flour, honey, sugar and spices. At first, I couldn't handle this but over the years, taste buds adjust too.
You can’t miss shopping for handicrafts, candles, crystals, hats and mittens and unique seasonal gifts made by local artisans. In some corners, you may be able to take a pause and enjoy the singing of carols and traditional dancing, portraying traditional Christmas customs and stories. Christmas markets are family and child-friendly so some places offer rides on a merry go round or ferris wheel.
Wiler and Konstanzer Weihnachsmärkte
Most of these Christmas markets open during the Advent season or about 4 weeks before Christmas and may run up to the New Year, while others set them up only for an extended weekend. The joyous atmosphere is one to breathe in! Stalls light up like stars that twinkle as soon as early wintry evenings set in, overcoming darkness and the cold. A certain festive air envelopes as you hop from stall to stall. Look out behind the stalls. There could be incredibly charming historic buildings, baroque churches or landmarks with live and lit Christmas trees next to them.
Wishing our Roots & Wings readers a blessed Christmas from Europe - Fa la la la la la la la la!