History of the Christmas Market in Europe – Guest Post by Nicole Basaraba

As we inch our way closer to Christmas, we are usually more and more stressed or just plain worn out from all the shopping, cooking, baking and partying. But, we wouldn’t give it up, would we? I have just the remedy, if that’s how you’ve been feeling.

I’m thrilled to have Nicole Basaraba, who lives in Brussels, Belgium, to tell us about a low-tech, low-stress holiday tradition in Europe. Allow your imagination to conjure up the sights, sounds and aromas of the Christmas Market.  

The history of Christmas markets goes back to the Late Middle Ages in the German speaking part of Europe. The Bautzen Christmas market was first mentioned in records in 1384. The Dresden Christmas market, with over 250 stalls, was first held in 1434 and is one of the oldest Christmas markets and it attracts between 1.5 and 2 million visitors a year. In many towns in Germany and Austria, Advent (coming of Christmas) is usually ushered in with the opening of the Christmas market or “Weihnachtsmarkt”. In southern Germany and Austria it is sometimes called a “Christkindelsmarkt” (in German means “Christ child market”).

Sibiu, Romania

Sibiu, Romania - Christmas market

The markets are generally held in the town square and pedestrian zones, which makes it even more festive. I know the farmers markets in my hometown in Canada are held in the massive parking lots of grocery stores. You just can’t beat the feeling of wandering through a small village made of wooden stalls, covered in Christmas decorations and exuding the smoke of the grills cooking Bratwurst sausages, the sweet smell of “Christstollen” – an egg bread with candied fruit – the spices of hot mulled wine (Glühwein) or even the perfumes of fancy soaps. If you’re lucky you may even get to hear and see traditional singing and dancing. On opening nights onlookers welcome the “Christkind”, or boy Jesus, acted out by a local child.

Fresh-made bread

Fresh-made bread

Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, the Sunday from November 27 to December 3, inclusive, and this is the time when most Christmas markets begin in Germany. Popular attractions at the market I’ve been to in Cologne, Brussels and Paris, include not only the food, but also the handmade toys, artwork and Christmas tree decorations and ornaments.

Christmas market, Cologne Germany

Cologne, Germany

In Cologne (Germany), Brussels (Belgium) and Paris (France), there are multiple Christmas markets to visit. I really enjoyed the big “Marche de Noel” in La Defense area in Paris. With 350 chalets featuring gifts and goodies from a number of different countries including Germany and even Canada, there is something for everyone. Some other cities that appear to have some excellent Christmas markets are Vienna (Austria) and Sibiu (Romania).

These markets are a Christmas tradition in Europe that I truly enjoy because you can have even more fun while shopping in the open air surrounded by wanderers eating, drinking and laughing instead of trying to push past you to grab the last item on the shelf or get ahead of you in line. The market atmosphere definitely gets you into the Christmas spirit

European ways are so much more relaxed and less commercial. Sounds wonderful to me, Nicole! Thanks for being here.

 How about the rest of you? You know we love hearing from you, so chime in with your feedback on this cool piece of history.

Nicole BasarabaGrowing up in Western Canada, Nicole Basaraba was always skipping to her own beat. Not being a hockey fan, having no skills in skiing or snowboarding, always being cold, and having never tasted maple syrup, she is what you might call a “bad” Canadian. Having studied some history in university and always dreaming of seeing Europe, Nicole moved to Brussels, Belgium to live, work and travel of course. She soon discovered that there is more to Belgium than just its delicious chocolate so she decided to stay in Europe for an undetermined period. Working in print publishing and website content management by day, she writes travel articles, book reviews and other lifestyle/culture articles about her fun and crazy experiences in Europe by night.


16 thoughts on “History of the Christmas Market in Europe – Guest Post by Nicole Basaraba

  1. Pingback: Christmastime in Germany’s oldest city | Follow Ben and Jenna

  2. I love the fact that no two markets are the same. Even within Germany, you’ll find tremendous regional variety (I’m just finishing a series on some of my favorites). My advice is to visit around Thanksgiving, when things are just taking off and the best merchandise is still available. That gives you plenty of time to wrap up your shopping, get home, and celebrate the holidays with family!

    • Jenna, thanks so much for visiting and for the ping. Your post on Christmas Markets offered even more information–love the mushroom delicacy from Trier! I think you’re right, going at Thanksgiving gives you the best of both worlds–European markets and home for Christmas!

  3. Nicole, thank you for a wonderful post! It was so good to have you here again!

    Thanks to all for showing Nicole some comment luv!

    Merry Christmas everyone!

  4. Pingback: History of the Christmas Market in Europe | Nicole Basaraba's Uni-Verse-City

  5. Hello everyone and thanks so much Marcia! The Christmas markets are very fun. It would be great to see the tradition spread over into North America. The Europeans are a lot less commercial, but I do miss the way the cities in North America make you live and feel Christmas. Over here the spirit is in the air, but then a breeze comes and you forget until the next time you see a christmas-themed window display.

    I would LOVE to know if your city council’s have a christmas market next year. Please keep me informed. 🙂

  6. Oh to be there! Those Christmas markets are so special and, really, why can’t we do them in North America? As Tameri suggests, we need to talk to our local councils. Here’s to Christmas Markets in 2012! Happy holidays with your family, Nicole.

  7. This makes me want to break my rule and travel at Christmas. Oh, how I would love to stroll through a Christmas Market. Someday, I will. I think it would be fun to have one here, even if it’s sunny and 70degrees. Farmer’s Markets are big, so why not a Christmas Market? Hmmm, I might have to talk to the City Council about setting one up next year. Thanks for sharing this and inspiring the idea.

    Merry Christmas Nicole & Marcia!

  8. Sounds wonderful and in the warmer cities here in the States it might work. People don’t get out and walk here like they do in Europe and the UK. That was one of the things that stood out for me when we were out of country. It was not unusual to see both the young and the elderly walking or riding a bicycle to market. On the other hand When there is a foot of snow or more on the ground we can really appreciate a heated mall dressed in holiday cheer.

  9. Having traveled to Europe I agree it is relaxing and this would be my idea of Christmas shopping…I will have to add this to my wish list…visiting at Christmas time or before…who wouldn’t love Christmas shopping in Europe….

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