Blonde recently returned from a Viking River Cruise that visited a variety of German Christmas markets along the Danube. She’d long heard about the German Christmas markets and pictured them as being pretty, twinkly and full of hand-crafted decorations to buy. And, for once, she was right.
However, due to overwhelming reader education dedication she decided to create a sort of Cliff’s Notes of German Christmas markets for you. You can use it to decide if the markets interest you, to impress/bore people at the office Christmas party or to argue with Blonde’s perspective via the blog’s comment feature. All are fine!
Germany has been having Christmas markets since the Middle Ages. Generally speaking they run from the beginning of Advent until Christmas Eve. A note of particular interest is the fact that WalMart did not exist in the Middle Ages. Hence there was never a”Black Friday” at the Christmas markets, potentially saving the lives of centuries of bargain seekers.
The Viking Cruise began in Nuremberg which also happens to be the home of one of the first (or the first depending on who you believe) German Christmas markets. It is nearly 1,000 years old and was definitely the largest and most crowded one we visited.
Prior to Martin Luther coming to Bavaria in the 1550s and bringing with him the Protestant Reformation, people (read: Catholics) gave gifts from Saint Nicholas.
But oh no, that didn’t suit fun-loving Martin! He changed the tradition and introduced the idea that the gifts were brought by the angelic “Holy Christkind”. (Martin was apparently not aware that Jesus was a Jew, not a Christmas present toting Protestant.)
The German Christmas market in Nuremberg has a many many centuries old tradition of being opened by a local girl (16 to 19 years old) dressed as a Christmas Angel reciting a prologue, followed by childrens’ choirs singing and church bells (and cash registers) ringing.
What do you eat at a German Christmas market?
Glad you asked! There are lots of goodies; candies, cakes, pretzels and gingerbread. Those are in the optional category. You are required, by tradition to consume only two things; Gluhwein and bratswurst. Every city you go to indignantly insists that they have the best bratwurst in Bavaria, if not the world.
Blonde is not a fan of sausage but had many a bratwurst on the Viking River Cruises trip. It isn’t like sausage you get elsewhere; it’s not greasy and doesn’t make you hate yourself for eating it (well, maybe after you get home and weigh yourself). Rick Griffin of Mid-Life Road Trip fame warned Blonde to only eat the sausages being served straight from the grill, not to take them from pre-stacked sandwiches. He was right and is too nice of a guy to begrudge the passing along of this valuable tip.
The other semi-mandatory thing to consume is Glühwein, a hot wine-and-rum punch made with lemon and orange peels, brown sugar, cinnamon and other spices. This stuff is wonderful, warming your tummy on a cold Winter day and giving you a mild glow of good cheer towards everyone.
What do you buy at a German Christmas market?
The primary categories appear to be food, a wide range of handicrafts and woolen hats and scarves. The better markets only allow items made in Germany to be sold in the market stalls. But that doesn’t entirely stop your random trinket from China occasionally cropping up so be aware of what you’re buying if you want authenticity.
Decorative carvings are very popular. One of Blonde’s favorites was the light wood, carved decorative candle holders known as Schwiboggan.
Another traditional favorite is prune people or “Zwetcshgenmännle” which may be easier for you to pronounce. These little buggers are dressed representing various professions and (if my very cursory Google search was right) are seen as being patron saints of the family and are placed, facing out, in the windows of homes.
Other people merely say that if you want someone in your life who won’t cause you any trouble then just get a prune person. (Blonde has a prune of a brother-in-law so it seemed as if buying one would be redundant and not work anyway.)
There’s no lack of other ornaments to decorate your home for Christmas. Even for someone who hasn’t put up a Christmas tree in more than 20 years some of them were hard to resist.
Wasn’t there something else you should have told us about German Christmas markets?
Yes, there was.
They usually have music, sometimes lovely, sometimes regrettable (the same music can be either depending on your consumption of Glühwein).
Most of them also have carousels, a topic of some debate and derision among purists. I say they’re pretty and kids on carousels aren’t under your feet, so what the heck?
Why would I want to go to a German Christmas market?
How should I know?
Here are some guidelines you could consider:
- They’re a tradition that has existed in various forms for 1,000 years and, as such, give you some insight into German culture.
- Bratwurst and Glühwein
- They’re really pretty, especially at night.
- Where else can you find 100s of Germans all in good moods?
- German Christmas markets are an excellent excuse to go on a Viking River Cruise and they’re fabulous, so, if this is how you get to go on one, so be it!
- If you’re into Christmas you’ll love them.
- You can get locally made, good quality, handmade goods at reasonable prices.
- Bratwurst and Glühwein
Disclaimer: Blonde attended the German Christmas markets as the guest of Viking River Cruises. Let’s hope they don’t regret that.