If you've ever been to Germany in December, you are likely familiar with the Christmas markets that decorate almost every German city. And although the pandemic has called off the tradition Christmas markets this year, we can still explore their history and see how some markets are adapting to the situation.
Although Christmas markets can usually be found in many countries, they originated in the German-speaking part of the Roman Empire and remain a big part of German culture.
German-style Christmas markets date back to the Middle Ages, when townspeople held winter markets as an opportunity to stock up on food and supplies to get them through the colder months. These open-air markets were usually only open for a day or a few days - just enough time to allow people to buy what they needed. A famous example of this is Vienna's Dezembermarkt (December market), which was first held between 1294 and 1296 and sold goods for the winter.
Over time, the wintertime markets began to evolve. Craftsmen began to set up stands selling products such as toys and woodcarvings, which people bought as gifts for Christmas and New Year's. It is believed that some of the oldest Christmas markets were first held in Dresden in 1434, in Bautzen in 1384, in Frankfurt in 1393 and in Munich in 1310, although some of these may have had more of a resemblance to wintertime markets. The Protestant Reformation also had an impact on the markets. When the markets first came into being, they were often associated with Saint Nicholas (Munich’s first market was called the “Nikolausdult”). After the Protestant Reformation, the markets gradually became associated with the “Christkindl” (“Christ child”) instead – and in 1805 Munich changed the name of its market to the “Christkindlmarkt”. Parents started to tell their children that the “Christkindl” would deliver gifts on Christmas. As time passed, all of Germany’s winter markets evolved into Christmas markets.
In a normal year, Christmas markets would light up German cities, bringing people together for the holidays. The COVID-19 pandemic has made these types of gatherings impossible, but some Christmas markets are finding creative ways to deliver some holiday cheer.
There are drive-through Christmas markets, takeout “huts” and – in some cases – virtual tours! If you want to get a sense of what a traditional German Christmas market looks like, check out the 360-degree tour of the Charlottenburg Palace Christmas market, as well as the virtual Christmas market page created by Christkindlmarkt Chicago. Stay safe.
Webteam, German Embassy
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