Right about now every travel site and travel show will be talking about European Christmas markets. Traditional, romantic, cultural, local food, local crafts, spicy brews, medieval settings – all good reasons to visit a European Christmas market, if you can. Christmas markets, like any other highly touristed event, offer the visitor a glimpse of the culture, from the outside looking in. What makes Christmas markets unique are that they aren’t simply a show put on for tourists. They are a cherished part of the holiday tradition because they offer a place for family and friends to gather in community.
Nuremberg. Heidelberg. Famous German towns with famous Christmas markets. The tourists flock there. But did you know that nearly every town in Germany holds a Christmas market, be it for a weekend, a week or, for larger towns, an entire month? Smaller towns don’t expect visitors to come in droves, but the locals do expect that they can meet up with their neighbors and friends around a make-shift bar table and spend the evening in merriment, drinking gluhwein and sampling wurst. The ambience is similar to that of a crowded family pub, only outdoors under snow-laden branches and the overhangs of a vendor’s kiosk. It’s a community affair, not a shopping extravaganza.
The most memorable times we had at Christmas markets were not when we traveled to see the ‘oldest’ or ‘most-famous’ markets, but when we bumped into acquaintances at our local market or bundled up and went several nights in a row to join friends and family for a dinner of kasespaetzle and cider. The Stuttgart market can get exceedingly crowded in the evenings. It’s nearly impossible to move through the mass of people. That’s because no one else is trying to get anywhere. They are already where they want to be – standing, laughing, drinking, eating and simply enjoying being. Definitely no rush here.
For a taste of the German Christmas market experience Stateside, including the bitter cold, visit the traditional German Christmas market in Chicago, November 20 thru December 24, 2012. Cincinnati inaugurated a traditional German Christmas market this year. See the related article after the photos for more info on the event that occurred earlier this month. Arlington, Texas also boasts an “authentic” Christkindl Market experience beginning today and lasting two weeks. Arlington’s first market was held last year. Seems to be a growing trend in the United States. Denver’s market began November 23 and lasts an entire month – much more in line with a larger German city market. For pictures of German markets across the U.S. check out this article in the Huffington Post. Any markets in your neck of the woods that you would recommend for experiencing a bit of community spirit?
It is true – most people are not able to travel to Germany to see the markets at Christmas time. Fortunately, the Stuttgart market, Germany’s largest and arguably ‘best,’ has a live webcam, updated every minute. The camera is focused on one of several plazas that host the market. Today is opening day!
Thanks to Daniel Netkin-Collins for allowing me to post some of his pictures of the Stuttgart Christmas market a few years ago. He has some more fantastic photos from his travels around the world on his website.