07 Dec ‘Tis the Season for a Good Christmas Market
We’re joining Multicultural Kids Blogs this month and sharing about Christmas in different lands. Be sure to check out the other daily blogs for a wonderful array of stories about celebrating Christmas around the world.
If you haven’t had the fun yet of strolling through a Christmas market, here’s a very random sampling of what you have to look forward to. Thanks to my friends and family for sharing what they love about Christmas markets in their home or adopted countries.
The tradition of Christmas markets dates all the way back to the late 1200s. Although most people associate Christmas markets with Germany, Vienna actually hosted the first recorded one in 1294. By the late Middle Ages, the tradition had crept across the European map. Today, you can find a festive market in most European countries, from Italy to Scandinavia and from Great Britain to Eastern Europe. Although the timing and the tastes vary from country to country—and even city to city—they all share one thing in common: they’re a feast for the senses. In every market you’ll be dazzled by the scent of cinnamon, the splendor of thousands of lights, the pleasure of brass bands or choirs, the bliss of spicy gingerbread, and the delight of local handcrafted treasures.
I stumbled across my first, and therefore my favorite, Christmas market a few years ago in Kitzbühel, Austria. It cast a magical spell on me, and I knew I’d weave a Pack-n-Go mystery around this tradition some day. (Done! Check out Mystery at the Christmas Market!) The Kitzbuehel Christmas market, or Christkindlmarkt, is small—no more than a couple dozen open-air stalls line a single street in the village center. A brass quintet, nestled high up on a balcony that overlooks the street, serenades market goers with familiar Christmas carols, including Austria’s own “Silent Night.” The scent of gingerbread hearts, warm pretzels, and spicy gluhwein wafts through the air. Vendors sell homemade jams, wooden crafts, and one-of-a kind Christmas tree ornaments. One of the unique Austrian traditions includes the Krampus, which are scary creatures that wear masks and carry brooms and chains to frighten children and adults into being good. They scamper through the market, playfully harassing market goers. Austrian markets open the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent and continue weekly until Christmas Eve.
In Milan, Italy, the Christmas market happens only around December 7 and 8 to celebrate the patron saint of Milan, Sant’Ambrogio. In addition to celebrating Saint Ambreus, it’s also the traditional start of the Christmas season for the Milanese. They put up their Christmas tree and manger scenes after this date. It’s typical to eat warm roasted chestnuts as you walk through the streets of the market, and many Milanese will also eat their first piece of “panettone,” which is the Northern Italy Christmas cake full of candied fruits and raisins. A favorite Christmas market in Milan is called the “O bei, o bei,” which translates to “Oh how cute, how cute!” Leave it to the Italians to name a market like this.
Estonia, which is fairy-tale beautiful anytime of year, hosts markets in their Old Town that make you feel like you’re stepping back six hundred years into medieval days. You’ll be treated to sweet marzipan (the Estonians claimed to have invented it), the ubiquitous gingerbread cookies, and chocolate truffles. Yum! Estonian Christmas markets begin the last week of November and run through January 7, which is Christmas Day for the Russian Orthodox Church.
Zurich, Switzerland, has a wonderful Christmas market in Zurich Central Station and another in Old Town. The markets are stocked with unique artisan products, which you can’t find in traditional stores. Most items are handmade and, in good Swiss tradition according to my Dutch friend who lived there several years, very expensive. People munch on roasted almonds and drink mulled wine as they browse. The scent of cinnamon is everywhere. The Lichterschwimmen, or candle-floating event, creates a magical ambiance. If you hang around long enough to make it to New Year’s Eve, you’ll be treated to a spectacular fireworks display.
The British have their own version, complete with hot mince pies and plenty of hot rum, brandy, and apple juice. Christmas mistletoe and evergreen branches and decorations decorate the stalls. The last day before Christmas, shops also open up and offer little sausages called pigs in blankets, other pies, and desserts. People singing carols adds to the festive atmosphere.
Stockholm, Sweden, holds their Christmas market, Julmarknad på Skansen, in the unique setting of an open-air museum. Old houses from all over Sweden have been recreated to represent a mini-Sweden of years past. Here, too, market goers enjoy fresh gingerbread in addition to saffron buns and even smoked reindeer sausage. Or they can be bold and try a little Lutfisken. Kids will love horse-drawn cart rides and the Nordic animals, as well as a spin around the Christmas tree as a small choir sings Christmas carols that are familiar around the world.. The legendary Christmas market runs every weekend through December.
Christmas markets have made the leap across the Atlantic. In fact, in most cities with large German populations like Cincinnati, Philadelphia, or Chicago you’ll find a Christkindlmarkt. Expect the familiar scent of gingerbread and cinnamon, as well as plenty of hand-made crafts. As you wander through the aisles, you’ll easily forget that you’re not in the heart of Europe.
Regardless of how you celebrate your holiday season, we hope it’s filled with all the light and wonder, the scents and sounds, and the tastes that linger in your memory far beyond the next few weeks. ~Janelle
A special thanks to Paul Skingle and Sherry Jordan for sharing photographs, as well as Cameron Smoak, Anouk Kooijmans, Abigail Cooper-Hansen, and Elisabet Klason for sharing their Christmas market stories.