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Published: December 16th 2005
The Christmas season is a very special time in Germany. During the four weeks preceding Christmas, known as Advent, in almost every city, town, or village in Germany the main market square where all the fruits and vegetables are sold, the fruit and vegetable stalls are dismantled and removed from the market square at the beginning of November, and replaced by picturesque wooden huts adorned with miniature white lights which transform town squares and city marketplaces around the country into winter wonderlands. Vendors begin selling traditional German gifts, handcrafted ornaments, wooden toys, and Advent wreaths. The aromas of fresh gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and almonds, lebkucken (honey or spiced rectangular cakes with a wafer bottom), and hot steaming mugs of mulled wine, known as glühwein, waft through the air. All this contributes to a sense of wonder that delights locals and visitors alike. It is a sign for every citizen to prepare himself for the oncoming spectacle, which goes by the name of the Weihnachtsmarkt or Christkindle's Market. The season of Christmas has arrived in Germany!
Some of the most traditional German handicrafts can be found here in the weeks before Christmas — from nutcrackers, wooden figurines, straw stars and smokers,
Wonderful colors and patterns
to cookie tins, glass balls, toys, and tree ornaments of every shape, size and material. Nativity sets of all kinds abound. In addition, at the various Christkindlsmarkts, what seems to be popular are miniture houses, furniture and fixtures, pots and pans, and everything that you would find in a normal house. What they do with them I am not sure, although it must have something to do with Christmas.
Despite the widespread belief that Christmas has only recently developed into a feast of commercialism, it may be shocking to find out that, as early as the 17th century, gift buying at the Christmas markets had already become a main pre-holiday activity.
Usually the Christmas Market would take place around the main church in the village. This way the market attracted many visitors due to its central location as well as due to the fact that the church-goers would have to pass the market. And they really liked to look around the market and buy many a gift or sweet. So it does not really come as a surprise that a parish priest in Nuremberg complained in the year 1616 that the afternoon service on Christmas Eve
did not take place since nobody showed up for the service. Instead, everybody was out and about buying Christmas presents.
Historians, however, currently name 1628 as the year the market first appears in the historical record. An unambiguous piece of evidence remains from that year. A 19 cm (approx. 8 1/2 inches) oval wooden box painted with flowers in the German National Museum bears an inscription in black on its base describing the box as sent by one Susanna Eleonora Erbsin (or Elbsin) to Regina Susanna Harßdörfferin on the occasion of the Christkindle‘s Market of 1628. This box is currently regarded as the oldest piece of evidence for the Christkindle's Market.
It is likely that the markets drew more visitors when religious reformer Martin Luther instituted new customs for Christmas. Before Luther, the exchanging of presents took place on the saint days of St. Nicholas, December 6, or of St. Martin, on November 11.
It was Luther who suggested that children receive presents from “the Christ child,” hence the name “Christkindlsmarkt,” a popular name for the Christmas markets.
This Advent season Kate and I were only able to visit six different Christmas Markts: Ansbach, Dinkelsbuhl, Fulda,
One would think that a booth like this would serve soup. No soup but some very strongly flavored coffee. Notice the menu on the right side.
Heidelberg, Nuremberg, and Wurzburg. Although most of the Christmas Markts are very similar in the handicrafts provided, Wurzburg was to us probably the best. Situated in the market place adjacent to a beautiful church, Wurzburg’s Christmas Markt was fairly open and even with a good size crowd it was easy to move around and see the various booths. Unlike Wurzburg, Nuremberg, which is considered to be the largest in Bavaria, was nothing but wall to wall people (see the picture of the man carrying his full grown golden retriever below as a prime example of what it was like). And it was even more crowded around the gluhwein stands which there must have been at least two in every row of booths we attempted to get down. It was so crowded that it was impossible to view the handicrafts as you were moved along in a sea of bodies. Next year we will try and visit some other towns and villages' “Christkindlsmarkt” and compare the various markts.
Although we would love to be back in San Diego to celebrate Christmas with our entire family and friends, unfortunately it is not going to happen this year. So we are making
due by spending a week at a resort in Tenerife, Canary Islands. At least it is suppose to be warm there!
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, a healthy and happy New Year!
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