Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas in Europe

I love Christmas markets. Sometimes when I mention this to friends in the states they nod, completely understanding what I'm talking about. Other times, I get confused looks: "What's a Christmas market?"

Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmärkte, are basically outdoor festivals with stalls offering handcrafted wares, delicious food and drink, and local specialities. The biggest markets are open from the beginning of December all the way through Christmas, but smaller towns often host their own markets for one or two weekends of advent. 

Several European countries have them, but without a doubt they are most popular in Germany. I grew up going to Weihnachtsmärkte with my family. Mom would endlessly browse the wares, and Charlie and I would do our best to be patient while our fingers froze. The hours were punctuated by edible treats - chocolate-covered fruit, crepes, and bratwurst. We would sip mugs of Kinderpunsch - the non-alcoholic version of Glühwein, a mulled wine that is a staple at German Christmas festivities. (This year I upgraded to Glühwein, and it is sooooooo good.)

I'm used to there being one, maybe two, Weihnachtsmärkte per town. Munich however, is the third largest city in Germany and has more than a dozen. A friend of mine found this map of the Weihnachtsmärkte (also often called Christkindlmärkte) in Germany according to the nearest subway stations, which was super helpful. 

I only managed to visit five of the ones in Munich, but I also went to the one in Nürnberg, several in Innsbruck (that Austrian ski resort has six), and two in Budapest when I met Charlie there a few weeks ago. Am I through? Nope. Tonight my family is hitting the Mainz Markt, and also possibly one in a town on the Rhine river. I thought about waiting to write this post until after the last two, but that would entail writing a blog post on Christmas Eve, and, let's be real, I'm not about to do that. 

I tried to remember to take lots of pictures to share a sliver of the Weihnachtsmarkt experience with y'all, though sadly I can't share the smells and tastes over the internet. 


The Nürnberg Christkindlmarkt is by far the most famous Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany. With around 200 stalls, the heart of the market is in the center of Nurnberg's old town, though it spills out into the surrounding streets as well. This is the one my family went to almost every year when I was growing up, and going back there a few weeks ago was a trip down memory lane. 

In addition to sipping Glühwein and munching on Bratwurst, I love window-shopping at all the different stalls. 

Prune dolls are a local Nürnberg specialty. 

There are stalls where you can totally outfit a miniature home, complete with washing machine and dryer.


I loved popping into different Munich Weihnachtsmärkte on my way home from work this month. Maybe the coolest one was the medieval market, complete with roasted pig:

The Munich markets also have a lot of wonderful wares for sale.

Maroni are roasted chestnuts. In spite of the ubiquitous Christmas song, I have never seen these in the states, but they are all over the place in Germany during the winter. They are an acquired taste, but I have learned to love the earthy flavor and the welcome warmth.

The mistletoe vendor reads when business is slow...

These are potato pancakes with jam sandwiched in between. So yummy. 

I have to mention, while on the whole I have been soul-satisfied with the food at the Weihnachtsmarkt  fare, there is one dish I really miss: mushrooms soaked in a creamy garlic sauce. We used to get them at the Heidelberg market, and I thought that they were standard fare, but perhaps they were a local specialty. Sad day.

In addition to the traditional markets, Munich also has a couple of alternative markets. They are not my favorite, but this one is worth mentioning. It's the Tollwood festival, held on Theresienwiese, the same place that Oktoberfest is held.  Vegetarian fare, charms, and new agey stalls are standard here, while the tents are venues for concerts and talk shows. Though it isn't my favorite, I did enjoy getting a taste of a market with a very different vibe than usual. 

Innsbruck, Austria

Nestled in a valley in the Austrian alps, Innsbruck is a perfect location for a Weihnachtsmarkt.

There's a live brass band playing under the golden roof. It adds the perfect finishing touch to the evening ambiance of the market.

I love gnomes.

Kids take a virtual sleigh ride down a mountain.

Each market has its own special Glühwein mugs. When you purchase the Glühwein, you pay a deposit for the mug. Then you can choose whether to return it or keep it as a souvenir. I haven't kept any so far, but my parents have a burgeoning collection.

My friend Katherine and I were pleasantly surprised to receive two giant Bratwurst for the price of one. No complaints there.

Most of the Weihnachtsmärkte have at least one large nativity. They also have stalls chock full of nativity sets in different sizes and styles. You could spend hours choosing the perfect figures for your own nativity scene.

I wasn't planning to get one, but when I saw this Holy Family I knew instantly that this would be my Christmas present to myself. I look forward to displaying this for years to come.

Budapest, Hungary

I met up with Charlie in Budapest a few weeks ago, and we had fun exploring the Budapest Christmas markets. While many of the stalls sold goods that were familiar from the German markets, there was also a distinctly Hungarian vibe to the markets that I enjoyed. 

In particular, the food was distinctive. In addition to sausages, the Hungarian markets had a lot of fried dough dishes that would be smothered in goulash, vegetables, or powdered sugar for dessert. 

We were a fan of chimney cakes. A classic Hungarian street food, they are made of dough wrapped around a stake and roasted, then covered with cinnamon sugar. Once pulled off the stake and wrapped in plastic, steam rises up from the top, hence earning the name chimney cakes. 

What a treat to get to sample so many Weihnachtsmärkte - definitely one of my favorite things about spending Christmas in Europe.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I LOVE this, Kate! Thank you for sharing it with us! I'm sorry I can't actually experience it with you, but I think you did a pretty great job trying to bring us along. Haha. I love the idea of chimney-cakes AND that you started your own nativity. <3