It’s that time of the year when Christmas cheer comes to Germany. German Christmas Markets are known far and wide in the world. They have gathered a reputation for bringing traditional German cheer to a place near you. Due to their popularity, traditional German Christmas Markets now also take place outside of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Turns out, German holiday cheer is somewhat contagious. But before you attend your first Christmas Market – known as a Weihnachtsmarkt in German – you need to know what you’re going to face over there. For your first time, I recommend going to the biggest Christmas Market near you.
As a Pakistani in Germany, Christmas was the season I was most psyched over my first year here. Now, I go overboard during Christmas time like everyone around me. I love seeing Germans become much more cheerful than usual and am pleasantly surprised when ordinary people burst into song near me in the city center. Although, liberal doses of Glühwein might have something to do with it. So, now that I have given you a sneak peek into the German Christmas tradition in my last sentence, let’s have a look at what is in store for you in a typical all-German Christmas Market.
Glühwein and Eierlikör: Glühwein is hot German mulled wine. Designed specifically for the German winter, it is usually made of red wine spiced with herbs and spices and then cooked. Although to me, it sometimes smells really weird, that’s not supposed to be its forte. This drink will first of all enter your mouth and with the first swallow warm you until the tips of your toes. It is such a great feeling, everybody should have it once in their lives. It’s meant to warm people up and fill them with some Christmas cheer. Spontaneous choruses have been known to be heard around the Glühwein tent. Eierlikör is the German version of the eggnog. Be warned it has a much higher alcohol content than eggnog in other countries. It helps you get into the mood, let’s say.
- Roasted Nuts: Sweet roasted nuts are another attraction of German Christmas Markets. It’s usually chestnuts, peanuts, macadamia nuts, and many other types. They’re caramelized with sugar and they smell heavenly. I promise you, the smell alone will lure you to the stall from afar.
Lebkuchen: What German traditional public gathering would also be complete without Lebkuchen? In case you’re not familiar, it’s gingerbread with an icing. Although it’s most commonly seen in the shape of a heart with soppy lettering on it like Mein Schatz (my love) or Ich liebe dich (I love you), it can also be as a gingerbread house or other shapes.
- Bratwurst and other things from the grill: When you’re in Germany, you’ll get the feeling that the Bratwurst is a staple of the German diet. The Christmas Markets usually come with a grill tent where people grill Bratwursts and other delicious meaty treats. You’d think with the popularity of vegetarianism in the country, there might be vegetarian alternatives as well, but I have yet to see any. Let me know if you do.
Traditional handmade goods: Germany is famous for its handicrafts and they are on a full fledged display on Christmas Markets. Glassblowers show their centuries old art of making objects out of glass. They take orders and can make something special for you then and there. Wood craftsmen are also present and it’s a treat to see them work wonders out of a block of wood. The speed is astounding. One of my personal favorite stalls in the handmade goods section is the Käthe Wohlfahrt stall. Käthe Wohlfahrt is a traditional southern German store which makes all sorts of Christmas ornaments and decorations. They’re almost always present on bigger Christmas Markets and are a big attraction. Sadly, you can’t take photos once inside their stall. If you’re looking for a traditional German Christmassy souvenir, I highly recommend you buy it from here. It might be costly, but you can’t put a price on this stuff, really.
Nutcracker and Räuchermännchen: At a Christmas Market in Germany, you will be assaulted by the presence of Nutcracker and Räuchermännchen. They might or might not be handmade so I did not include them in the category above. The Nutcracker is fairly known so I won’t explain what it is. But the Räuchermännchen is something at least I had never seen before coming here. It is a hollow figure into which a small piece of incensed coal is placed. The smoke comes out of the mouth of the figure. Its really cute and a must have.
- Fair Rides: There are sometimes – but not always – fair rides at the Weihnachtsmarkt as well. Usually, they are a merry-go-round for the children and a Ferris wheel for both children and adults.
- Desserts: Various baked goods are also present at Christmas Markets. The most popular one is the Stollen cake which comes from Saxony, Spekulatius spiced biscuits, pancakes and crepes. A Nutella crepes is certainly worth a tasting.
Weihnachtspyramide: One strange German Christmas Market tradition is a Weihnachtspyramide. It’s at every Christmas Market I have ever been to here and I’m nonplussed as to why it’s there and how the heck that thing is even a pyramid. So, the concept is to have this ‘pyramid’ as a Christmas decoration at home, light candles under it so that the fan at the top spins. At a Christmas Market, the fan is mechanical as it would be too dangerous to have a fire around it. Wikipedia tells me that the Weihnachtspyramide is the precursor to the Christmas tree but I just don’t see how. It’s most perplexing but makes for great photos, so who cares!
Weihnachtsmann or Christkind: The German Santa – called the Weihnachtsmann makes an appearance at the Christmas Market as well. A Santa sleigh is hung over market square. It’s much funnier though when the sleigh actually moves back and forth on the wire it’s hung on. In southern Germany, however, the gift bringer is the Christkind. Traditionally, the Christkind (Christ child) is depicted as a blonde haired angelic child. At certain southern German Christmas Markets, every year a Christkind is crowned.
So go forth, my readers, to a Weihnachtsmarkt near you and enjoy German traditions in all their glory. You’ll have a fun time there, I can guarantee you.