Christmas trees to gingerbread, German culture has long been a major
contributor to today’s widely celebrated winter traditions. And although the
occurrence of Christmas markets – where the town’s craftsmen sell toys and
sweets for the upcoming celebration – is one of their oldest and most loved
traditions, these festive fairs are now springing up across the globe.
If you are
not planning a trip to Germany this holiday season, four great Christmas
markets can be enjoyed in the United States, Japan, France and England. While these
markets may be in different countries, they have not lost their charm and
authenticity, and are all rooted in ancient tradition.
Chicago, United States
snug Christkindlmarket has taken
over the city’s Daley Plaza, located downtown in the Loop, since 1996. Most of
the merchants are German, and the chalets carry wooden signs with the name of
the vendor’s hometown, from big cities like Dresden – where one of the oldest
Christmas markets is still held today – to small villages like Zwiesel in the
and hot chocolate make the Midwest winter more than bearable, and sauerkraut
and Munich’s Spaten – one of Germany’s oldest beers, brewed since 1397 -- draw
people from all over the city for an authentic European experience. An
unexpected treasure is the traditional cuckoo clocks that are brought over from
Germany’s Black Forest region every year, exclusively for sale at the market. And
this year’s market, running until 24 December, brings a new programme to teach
children about German Christmas traditions with well-known songs and poems.
expecting more than a million people to join us at the market this year,
including famous actors and sports stars,” said Maren Biester, vice president of
German-American Services, the organisation that plans German events in the
city, including the annual Oktoberfest.
Under the bridge of the Umeda
Sky Building in Kita-ku, Osaka’s business district, the almost 40 chalets are
visited by more than 1.4 million visitors each year. “Willkommen zum
Weihnachtsmarkt” – Welcome to the Christmas
Market – reads the sign at the
“Osaka carries the only authentic market of its nature
and size in all of Asia; and it continues to inspire other cities to create
similar events,” explained Andreas Pfister, founder of AGP Promotion Asia, the
event agency that started the Osaka market.
From mid November to 25 December, children and adults get
a taste of a typical German Christmas, with a German beer house serving Löwenbräu (which has been brewed since the 14th Century
in Munich), homemade gingerbread and fruit cakes, as well as Dallmayr
coffee imported from Munich. The rather unusual harp-playing Santa –
although not particularly German – entertains the visitors, and a 27m-high Christmas
tree with more than 200,000 lights triumphs over the square.
Fourteen containers made the six-week ship journey
from Hamburg to Osaka this year, with the historical carousel and its
hand-painted wooden horses the biggest item transported. The bratwurst,
however, is made in Japan using a German recipe. “We want to offer the best
quality to our Japanese friends, that’s why we don’t ship it,” Pfister said.
This cosy French
city of roughly 66,000 people in the eastern Alsace region is home to five
charming winter fairs, all part of La
Magie de Noel (Christmas Magic) market, a tradition that dates back to the
late Middle Ages. Surrounded by the rural hills of the Vosges, the city is the
perfect setting to get in a festive mood. Narrow streets wind their way through
the historic town centre, decorated with lights, bows and wooden ornaments,
while the timber-framed houses, each in a different colour, add to the
have German roots, and so do the traditions at the Christmas market. While some
vendors travel over the border from Germany, others celebrate their German heritage,
such as the potters from Betschdorf. This former German region is renowned for
its salt-glazed pottery, and the hand-made ceramics still made by family
businesses should not be missed at the market today.
ice rink, the live nativity scene with a petting zoo is an all-time favourite
for children, while parents can discover traditional Alsatian recipes such as
chocolate and cinnamon crêpes or tarte flambée, a pizza-like dish with onions and crème fraîche.
Colmar’s winter event has grown in size and
popularity. “With Germany and Switzerland close by, we get a mix of
nationalities at the market each year,” said Pauline Chaboche, the Colmar
Tourism press officer. The
festivities usually begin in late November and last for six weeks. This year
they can be visited until 31 December.
Hot sweet chestnuts were among the first items sold at German Christmas markets
during the Middle Ages, and they can still be enjoyed at Manchester’s Christmas
The city’s award-winning
originally purely German but now a colourful mix of European heritage, is held in
eight scenic city locations and runs until 23 December. Beginning in 1998 with
17 chalets, it today has more than 200 of the wooden houses, with vendors
travelling from Spain, Hungary and Romania as well as Germany.
Square was the first market location when it launched [and it is still] known
for authentic German produce,” said Paul Simpson, managing director of Visit Manchester. This includes
gingerbread hearts, roasted almonds and hot spiced wine, but also handcrafted jewellery
and leather bags. Twinkling chalets and Christmas trees are decorated with
lights and bows and festive music is played to sing along to.
is a time of the year where we can celebrate the festive spirit as a community.
The markets do just that,” Simpson said.