Christmas markets are held right across Europe during the Advent period, with the largest towns and cities having multiple events that often cater for different niches. These collections of stalls that line the streets have become synonymous with Christmas and now practically every major city in the UK invites European artisans to sell their wares to the Great British public.
But what do we know about these festive festivals? Here are some interesting facts.
1. Christmas markets were first held during the Late Middle Ages when regular markets were staged at various seasonal points throughout the year. Dresden’s Strietzelmarkt (first held in 1434), and the Christmas markets of Munich, Frankfurt and Augsburg are thought to be some of the oldest. However, Vienna’s December Market predates all of these, having first been held around 1294.
2. In many European cities, the opening of the Christmas market is marked by welcoming the ‘Christkind’ (Christ child). This is often played by a young boy representing the baby Jesus or a young girl dressed as an angel.
3. Although we see the commercialisation of Christmas as something that has only came about in recent centuries, people were buying gifts for each other from Christmas markets as early as the 1600s. However, before Martin Luther introduced new customs, presents were exchanged on St. Nicholas’s day, the 6th of December.
4. In 1616, a priest in the German city of Nuremberg had to cancel the afternoon service on Christmas Eve because the local Christmas market had proved so popular that nobody attended.
5. When they were first introduced, Christmas markets used to only last for a couple of days. Nowadays it is common for the stalls to be up for a month or more, starting in late November and finishing just before Christmas Day or even later.
6. The town of Bamberg, in Germany, adds to its Christmas market celebrations by staging a nativity trail around the streets. Over 40 different scenes form a route in what is known as the ‘Krippenstadt’.
7. Christmas markets have always been a place for local producers to showcase their wares and so many have become synonymous with traditional food products. Aachen is home to a type of gingerbread known as Printen, Vienna has crescent shaped biscuits called Vanillekipferl and the French city of Amiens is famous for its macaroons that date back to the 16th century.
8. Gothenburg’s Christmas market is the largest in Sweden and is held inside the Liseberg theme park. As well as ice skating, and children’s entertainment, there is also the St Lucia parade. In Sweden, Saint Lucia is the patron saint of lights and so, on December the 13th, local girls dress up in white dresses and carry candles through the streets. The festival is very popular and provides plenty of light during the long, dark winters in this part of the world.
9. Tradition is so important to the people of Budapest that the products on sale at their Christmas markets have to be confirmed as authentic. Each year, a jury of people from different organisations within the city will check that all products are traditionally homemade.
10. You may be surprised to see carp for sale in buckets as you wander through Prague’s Christmas markets. The fish acts as the main ingredient in a Czech Christmas dinner and locals will buy them live before it is taken home and cooked in breadcrumbs.
If you would like to book your trip to one of our European Christmas markets, call us today or submit your enquiry online. Our Christmas markets and winter brochure is also available if you need some festive inspiration. Order your copy here.