The History of German Christmas Markets
– Lighting up the Advent Season
German Christmas markets are a centuries old tradition that light up communities with fun, laughter, fabulous food, drink, and unique gifts–the perfect antidote to holiday commercialism.
In Germany, there are a variety of markets known as Christkindlmarkts. Each Christkindlmarkt has its own special charm, unique to the community and region. We are thrilled to share this tradition with Vancouverites. Prepare to experience the sights, smells, and sounds of an Old World Christmas.
History of German Christkindlmarkt
Local tradesmen lined the streets and sold their wares at the market displaying distinct regional characteristics, which gave each market an individual flavour. Food and beverages served were produced in the region, so each town’s offerings were a little different.
Christkindlmarkts, were a festive meeting place for people. Villagers bought and sold homemade Christmas ornaments, decorations, and gifts. Traditional German handicrafts at the markets included hand carved nutcrackers, wooden smokers, wooden figures, cuckoo-clocks, straw ornaments and blown glass ornaments.
Martin Luther’s Role in Christmas Customs
Religious reformer Martin Luther played a major role in our current Christmas customs inspiring new Christmas gift giving traditions. Before Luther, the exchange of Christmas presents took place on the Saint Day of St. Nicholas (December 6) or St. Martin (November 11). The tradition of giving gifts to children on Christmas became a welcomed blessing.
Martin Luther suggested that children receive presents from “The Christ Child”, known as Christkindl. Christkindl is a romantic, fairy-like figure, dressed in white and gold, with golden hair topped by a crown who delivers presents to children on Christmas. Christkindl is the German equivalent of Santa Claus.
Unique Celebrations Founded in Classic German Tradition
Christmas markets are a delightful way to begin holiday festivities. The crisp, cold air fills with the smell of sizzling sausages, sweet pastries, and hot spiced gluhwein (mulled wine). Booths sell sweet treats, such as chocolates, cakes, pastries, cookies and candies. Christmas music fills the air.
Towns, cities and villages across Germany celebrate unique Christkindlmarkts. The markets in Munich, Berlin, Rothenburg, Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Baden Baden and every other town serve different foods and sell different handcrafted wares that are specialties of the region. Larger cities, such as Munich, have more than one market.
Today’s markets are much the same as they have been for hundreds of years. The crowds at the German Christmas markets today are much bigger than they were hundreds of years ago, but the markets are still a warm, friendly gathering place and a festive part of the Christmas holidays.
The Christmas Market concept has now spread throughout Europe and to North America. Christkindlmarket Chicago started in 1995 and attracts over a million people each year. The Vancouver Christmas Market is celebrating 6 years of tradition this year, and we are thrilled to be sharing the traditions inspired by Germany’s renowned Christmas Markets.