Christmas Markets

Christmas Markets

In such European countries as Germany, Belgium, Austria, Holland, Spain, Sweden, and Italy, special outdoor Christmas markets flourish during the Christmas season. Local merchants construct stalls in an open square or plaza and decorate them with Christmas symbols and themes. Goods for sale typically include handmade Christmas crafts and specialty foods. Christmas music, dramas, and other entertainments add to the holiday atmosphere. Christmas markets allow shoppers to buy unique gifts while enjoying this special seasonal environment.

Christmas Markets in Germany

Germany's markets are especially famous. While strolling through the market German shoppers may sample a wide range of foodstuffs, such as smoked sausages, roasted chestnuts, roast chicken, candy, waffles, Viennese almonds, toffee apples and chocolate-dipped fruit, as well as various regional specialties. Many shoppers sip hot mulled wine as they saunter from booth to booth. Christmas music, holiday plays, and visits from St. Nicholas offer additional distractions from the cold. Gifts and decorations typically available at German markets include Christmas trees, straw stars, gold foil ornaments, wooden figurines, nutcrackers, gingerbread houses, a variety of simple toys, candles, candleholders, nuts, cookies, postcards, chocolates, and Stollen, a special Christmas bread enriched with dried fruit (see also Christmas Cake). Major Christmas markets entertain the public each year in Berlin, Cologne, Dresden, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Magdeburg, Munich, and Nuremberg. Some of these markets began as specialty markets and have since expanded into general fairs. The Munich market originally sold only Nativity scenes, while in its early days the Dresden market specialized in Stollen. Germany's markets run throughout the Advent season.

Germany's two oldest markets are held in Munich and Nuremberg. Nuremberg's "Christ Child Market" started in the seventeenth century in order to fill the new demand for Christmas presents. In the sixteenth century Germany's Protestant reformer Martin Luther began the custom of giving gifts to children at Christmas, attributing them to the Christ child (see also Christkindel). Not only did the Nuremberg market adopt "Christ Child" as its name, but it also selected a youngster to dress as the Christ child and distribute gifts to children attending the market. This custom continues today. Each year the market opens on the Friday closest to St. Barbara's Day, December 4, and runs until Christmas Eve. Regional specialties from the Nuremberg market include gold foil angels, wooden toys, honey cakes (Lebkuchen), and prune people (Zwetschgenmännla), figurines made out of dried prunes.

Christmas Markets in Sweden

In December visitors to Stockholm, Sweden, will find a Christmas market located in Gamla Stan, or Old Town. Another market, set up in Skansen Park, specializes in traditional Swedish handicrafts and food products. People interested in art and design often stop off at Konstfack, where the Art School of Stockholm hosts a Christmas market featuring the work of its students.

Liseburg Park, in the city of Gothenburg, holds a fabulous Christmas market each year. Decorated Christmas trees and millions of twinkling Christmas lights ornament the park for the holiday season. Singing choirs, booths selling traditional Swedish Christmas foods, and an ice skating rink provide additional holiday atmosphere. The park also serves as the site of the crowning of Gothenburg's Lucia (see also St. Lucy's Day).

Christmas Markets in Italy

In Italy Christmas markets bring a carnival atmosphere to many main plazas during the weeks before Christmas. Italian markets feature Nativity scene figurines, ornaments, decorations, toys, clothing, gift items, flowers, candy, balloons, fresh fish, snacks, specialty foods, and musical entertainment. The cities of Milan, Venice, Florence, Palermo, and Rome hold yearly Christmas markets, as do many smaller towns and cities throughout Italy.

Christmas Markets in Belgium

Christmas markets also enrich the holiday season in towns and cities throughout Belgium. Many Belgians favor the "European Christmas Market," held for several days around December 8 in Brussels. The stalls at this market display goods from every member state of the European Union, and from many others besides. The Christmas market at Liege lasts longer, however: it continues until New Year's Eve.

Further Reading

Christmas in Germany. Lincolnwood, Ill.: Passport Books, 1995. Christmas in Italy. Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, 1979. Henderson, Helene, and Sue Ellen Thompson, eds. Holidays, Festivals, andCelebrations of the World Dictionary. Second edition. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 1997. Russ, Jennifer M. German Festivals and Customs. London, England: Oswald Wolff, 1982.

Web Sites

A site sponsored by the German Information Center in New York and the German Embassy in Washington, D.C., contains a page on the Christ Child Market: (Search "Christmas market")

The November/December 2001 Newsletter of the Scandinavia Tourism Board of North America offers information on holiday celebrations in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden at: . com/frnewsletter.html
Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations, 2nd ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003
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