December 21, 2009
Hot drinks and cool crafts
Visiting German Christmas markets
Story and photos by Katie Grosser
Senior reporter, Youth Journalism International
MESCHEDE, Calle, Germany – There are some traditions you can’t get around. If you happen to spend part of Advent in Germany, going to a “Weihnachtsmarkt” is simply a must.
Christmas markets date back to the Middle Ages, but are still vastly popular in many parts of Europe today.
It’s the mix of things that pulls in the crowds – food stands sell local specialties such as “Gebrannte Mandeln” (candied, toasted almonds), “Lebkuchen” and “Magenbrot” (both forms of soft gingerbread), “Christstollen” (a sort of egg bread with candied fruit), bratwurst, crepes, “Schupfnudeln,” fried mushrooms, fish, waffles and various types of candy.
Many also enjoy the typically German “Glühwein” (a type of mulled wine with or without “Schuss” – a shot of brandy), or “Eierpunsch” (an egg-based warm liquor). For those who prefer sweeter drinks, there is “Lumumba” (warm chocolate with whipped cream and a shot of alcohol).
But food and drinks aren’t the only attractions at a typical German Weihnachtsmarkt. What really makes or breaks a market are the arts and crafts. Stalls upon stalls of woodwork, jewelry, dolls, Christmas ornaments, glassware, toys, books, furs, gems and “Schwibbögen” (decorative candleholders Germans put on display in their windows during the holidays) offer a wide selection of unique Christmas presents.
Walking through the festively lit markets, holding a warm drink to ward off the cold, Christmas music jingling in your ears, is most Germans’ idea of how to get into the holiday mood.
There are differences, however, between markets in the big cities and those in small rural towns.
City markets focus more on the food and commerce aspects, and run throughout December. The rural ones are usually smaller and shorter, running only for a weekend, but thrive upon their small-town atmosphere. It’s not unusual for people living in cities to join organized bus tours to experience the smaller, but often more charming, markets.
Smaller markets frequently feature stalls and campaigns for a good cause. A prominent example is a “lebendige Krippe” (a “live manger”), in which children dress up as Mary and Josef and sit on bales of hay, collecting money for other children in third world countries.
Every Christmas market is unique, whether it is small or big, in a city or in a village, a month-long event or held just for a weekend. Some things – foods, drinks, lights – are the same everywhere, and others – arts, crafts – vary from market to market. To gain the true German Christmas experience, one should not only go to one, but to several markets. In this spirit, “Frohe Weihnachten”!
Pictures of Hamburg's Christmas market.
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