I am an admitted Christmas addict. I adore Christmas. I love decorating our house in Georgia and buying our Christmas tree and coming home from work to the Christmas lights outside lighting up the house. It is my absolute favorite time of the year, and I wasn’t sure it was possible I could love this season more.
Thank you Germany for proving me wrong.
When I was offered the opportunity to extend my military orders for another year, one of my first thoughts was, “If I stay, I get to experience the Christmas Markets in Europe.” Obviously, a winning reason to sway such a big decision, right? 😉 But let me tell you, I am two weekends and six markets in and there is no question that my first thought was a solid one.
It should have been obvious that Germany would do Christmas right. They are hands down the best at hosting festivals and more importantly, Germany is the birthplace of many Christmas traditions and mainstays, such as gingerbread houses, the Nutcracker, the Advent calendar, and Christmas carols such as Away in a Manger, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, O Christmas Tree, and Silent Night. Arguably the most popular contribution was starting the Christmas Tree tradition, which began in the 16th century.
And I will add Christmas Markets to the list – a tradition I am now convinced that the States should adopt. The Markets are wonderful. To date, I have been to markets in Vienna (Austria), Bratislava (Slovakia), Heidelberg, Bad Wimpfen, Ludwigsburg and Stuttgart (Germany) – and I have yet to grow tired of them. They are all different and yet slightly all alike.
As a starting point, here is what to expect from a Christmas Market in Germany and/or Europe:
There will be food everywhere and it will all smell amazing.
Currywurst, Bratwurst (just go ahead and assume any and all kinds of “wurst), “Heisse Maroni” (Hot Chestnuts), Roasted Peanuts, Chocolate covered fruit, Potatoes made every way possible, candy…it really goes on and on. It is all warm, delicious comfort food that is perfect for cold, winter weather. And your sense of smell will be bombarded around every corner. The good news is, most markets are spread out so if you do indulge, you can take comfort in the fact that you may walk off a quarter of what you eat!
There will be Gingerbread hearts every where you look. And you will want to buy them because they are so cute!
These gingerbread cookies decorated with sweet notes such as “Ich Liebe Dich” (I love you in German) are staples of every German festival. Except at Christmas, they have little Santa hats on them which makes buying them even more tempting. Although I am still not convinced they are edible because they seem hard as a rock. It’s a good thing they are cute!
One of the staples of the Christmas markets is Gluhwein (warm red or white wine), but there is also a choice of “Punsch” (alcohol or alcohol frei) and hot chocolate – all of which is served in coffee-like mugs that are customized to the Christmas market that serves them. So far, I have 12. I figure they will make cute candle holders each Christmas. There is the option of turning them back in (you pay a “pfand” or deposit on each cup that you can get back – but seriously, the mug is totally worth the 2E pfand!)
Markets aren’t just for adults.
Germany always makes its festivals a family affair and the Christmas Markets are no different. Yes, it is based around Gluhwein and shopping – but there are mini-ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds and depending on the market, even a skating rink. Fun for everyone.
You will be able to find everything and anything you could ever want to buy.
Christmas decorations? Check. Cleaning products? Check. Meat products? Check. Seriously – there is a whole row of stalls in the Stuttgart market where you can buy household cleaning goods, cooking utensils and pots and pans. Of course the Christmas and home decorations outweigh everything else being sold (and you will want to buy them all!), but it really does run the gamut of what is offered.
Each Market prides itself on being different.
In Stuttgart, there is a contest for designing the best roof decoration – and just when you thought you saw it all, you walk around a corner and there is a barn-like set up with donkeys and a family of lambs and baby lambs. You never know what you are going to find – and it is absolutely awesome.
In all the excitement, don’t forget to save money for the WC!
It is easy to spend a lot of money – both on gifts and Gluwein – but don’t forget, you have to save at least 50 cent Euro for the toiletten! Otherwise, it won’t be nearly as much fun of a time! 🙂
If you didn’t love Germany (or Europe) before, you will now.
Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year and these markets inundate your senses with that idea. It is like sensory overload in the best and most amazing way. I have my days off filled with travel plans to so many of these markets – and I absolutely can’t wait. And if you weren’t a Christmas lover before – you will be.