A Christmas market originated in Germany and Austria, is a street market associated with the celebration of Christmas during advent, mainly the four weeks preceding Christmas Day. The history of Christmas markets goes back to the Late Middle Ages in the German speaking part of Europe. The Dresden Christmas market, first held in 1434, is one of the oldest Christmas markets. It attracts between 1.5 and 2 million visitors a year and has over 60 stalls. The Bautzen Christmas market was even older, first being mentioned in records in 1384. The Vienna “December market” was a kind of forerunner of the Christmas market and dates back to 1294.
In many towns in Germany and Austria, Advent is usually ushered in with the opening of the Christmas market or “Weihnachtsmarkt”. In southern Germany and Austria it is sometimes called a “Christkind(e)l(s)markt” (German language, literally meaning “Christ child market”). Generally held on the town square and adjacent pedestrian zones, the market sells food and drink from open-air stalls with other seasonal items and traditional singing and dancing. On opening nights onlookers welcome the “Christkind”, or boy Jesus, acted out by a local child. Famous Christmas markets are held in the cities of Erfurt, Nuremberg, Dresden, Stuttgart and Augsburg making them popular tourist attractions.The Nuernberg and Dresden markets draw about two million people each year; the Stuttgart market attracts more than three million visitors. Strasbourg, France has been holding a Christmas market, “Christkindelsmärik,” around its cathedral since 1570, when it was part of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation. Christmas markets are traditional in Alsace (an area of France with a heavy German influence) and most of the towns have their local Christmas market.
Popular attractions at the market include the Nativity Scene (a crèche or crib), Zwetschgamännla (figures made of decorated dried plums), Nussknacker (carved Nutcrackers), Gebrannte Mandeln (candied, toasted almonds), traditional Christmas cookies such as Lebkuchen and Magenbrot (both forms of soft gingerbread), Christstollen (Stollen), a sort of egg bread with candied fruit, Bratwurst, and for many visitors one of the highlights of the market: Glühwein, hot mulled wine (with or without a shot of brandy), or Eierpunsch (an egg-based warm alcoholic drink). Both help stave off the cold winter air which sometimes dips below freezing. Many other handmade items, toys, books, Christmas tree decorations and ornaments (and in recent years less useful gadgets) can be found at a Christkindlmarkt.
I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.