The Merriest Time of the Year
Because of vacation (which is the best excuse to have!), I wasn´t able to post here for a while ☹ But I´m coming back with my all-time favorite subject of the year: Christmas Markets!!
Christmas Markets are not a tradition everywhere in Europe, unfortunately! You can find them mostly in colder countries like Germany, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. Though they all basically consist of wooden stands serving typical food, drinks and products, it can be a lot of fun visiting markets in different locations – you always find something new and interesting! For example, in Austria, you can taste so many different punsch, you better make sure you don´t forget your way back to the hotel. In Sweden, the famous glögg will get you booking a trip back there in the next winter. German markets will hook you on Feuerzangenbowle, which might affect your judgement on how much money you can spend on the beautiful wooden art crafts being sold everywhere.
The Christmas Markets normally begin around middle of November and end right before Christmas. Some extend to even after New Years. Yes, it´s a cold season to be outside, I know, but you won´t be alone. Christmas Markets are far from being a “touristy” thing, locals also love it! Many companies even schedule their Christmas party at markets in order to celebrate the end of the year. It´s actually a really cool way to interact with locals and experience the culture! Nowadays, you can also find Christmas Markets with a theme like vintage, gay, romantic…The choices are endless!
If you are still skeptical, I listed down a few reasons why you should face the cold and come to the happy side of the force:
. DELICIOUS DRINKS
Before I knew Christmas´ Markets existed (well, it´s not a thing in Brazil…), if you told me you had a glass of hot wine, I would find you insane. The thing is, if you are coming from a hot weather country as I do, the thought of drinking hot wine might even sound profane. So, yeah, there´s definitely a cultural barrier there.
However, there´s an excellent element to this equation that helped me cross that barrier: the cold. In this sense, the Christmas Markets´ mulled wine, or glühwein, will be your best friend! The glühwein is typically red wine cooked in various spices like cinnamon, orange and peppercorn, though recipes vary. It is deliciously aromatic and it guarantees to keep you warm inside while you have a great time experiencing a Christmas´ Market!
Nowadays you can also find white wine versions of glühwein, but I don´t find them as comforting. Still, in order to choose your favorite, you gotta try all versions – and that´s part of the fun! One of the best hot drinks I have had this year, for example, is the baked apple glühwein.
The options are vast by the way, when we talk about hot beverages. For those who like it sweet, the Feuerzangenbowle could be a homerun. A traditional German drink, the Feuerzangenbowle is just like mulled wine, but with drops of rum-soaked sugarloaf which is light up on fire on top of the drink´s cooking cauldron. You will also find different versions of punsch, a fruity drink optionally topped with whipped cream and decorated with sprinkles, almonds, sugar or cinnamon. To me, the experience at Christmas Markets is not complete unless I have gone from stand to stand trying different punsch until I elect the best of the night. It is also not rare to find hot beer, the glühbier, in different stands.
One thing is certain: each year the sellers become more and more creative about what to offer in terms of drinks. For example, I have seen the offer of hot cocktails increase throughout the years. That means hot Caipirinhas and Moscow mules are fighting their way to earn a place in Christmas Markets as well. Weird? Fear not. There´s always the choice of the good old hot chocolate (boozy or not!)
Sometimes the drinks will only be an excuse to collect the cute celebratory mugs that come with it! And let me warn you: it´s addictive to start a collection.
By the way, adults that don´t drink alcohol and kids are not forgotten. Many drinks have a non-alcoholic version. Talk about the Christmas´ spirit of inclusion!
. TYPICAL YUMMY FOOD
Now we´re talking. This is my number one reason why I go to various Christmas´ Markets every year! I find it super fun to taste not only typical food that the locals love, but also those treats that are only available at this time of the year.
If you like meat, you are all covered. You can find burgers, a million different kinds of sausages, pulled pork, meat skewer and goulash, for example. There are also delicious side dishes like grilled mushrooms with sauce, bread or that one we all hate to love…the French fries! For those who don´t like/eat meat, you are also safe! Besides having the possibility of ordering the side dishes as a single portion, you can have fun trying the hash browns (Kartoffelpuffer), the garlic bread skewer, soups and cheese dishes like raclette or fondue. You normally also find crêpe stands with many different fillings.
On the sweet side, the options are endless. Caramelized nuts, fruits covered in chocolate and chocolate popcorn can be found in every Christmas Market. To have a taste of something local in Germany and Austria, look for the Kaiserschmarrn, a shredded pancake served with powder sugar and a fruit compote. It´s delicious! Trying typical Christmas´ cookies is also a must! People normally bake them at home and give them away as gifts for family, neighbours and friends!
It´s also interesting to find gastronomic influences from other countries in different Christmas Markets. In Germany, for example, it´s very common to find the Hungarian dishes Lángos (a deep fried dough topped with cheese, garlic and optional bacon) and the Baumstriezel (aka chimney cake).
In other words…go hungry to a Christmas Market!
. HAPPINESS IS IN THE AIR
The coldest countries don´t usually strike tourists as having the happiest people on Earth. You might change your mind though, when you travel during the holiday season! The mood at Christmas´ markets is definitely uplifting! You hear laughter, cheering, happy conversations…It´s impossible not to enjoy it. This is also a great opportunity to chat with locals and practice the language. People are clearly more open and excited to talk about their traditions during this time. You might even get a few recommendations about what to try! We all know locals know best…
. THE BEAUTIFUL DECORATION
The Decoration alone of these markets will get a smile out of your face! They are normally surrounded with Christmas´ lights lighting up wooden stalls, hanging decorations and houses. The bigger markets also have massive attractions that can contribute to the brightness (literally and figuratively!) of the ensemble, like ice skating rinks and two-story merry-go-rounds. Depending on the size of the market, they also have huge (I mean, huge!) illuminated Christmas´ trees. Believe me, all of this light makes a difference when it´s dark by 4:30 m!
Some products also enhance the markets´ decorations! I dare you not to lose yourself looking at those magical stands selling the beautiful colorful Christmas´ stars (aka the Herrnhut stars/Moravian Stars) or candles. The sweet booths, in their turn, are a delight to the mouth as well as to the eyes: huge popcorn bags and adorned gingerbread hearts swing from the ceiling while caramelized nuts, multicolored marshmallows and candy lay on display beside kaleidoscopic small sacs, waiting to be picked. You will find yourself in Hensel and Gretel´s ultimate dream!
. CHRISTMAS SHOPPING
Yes, ladies, you can go shopping for almost anything at Christmas´ Markets! The options will, of course, vary depending on the size of the market, but here are a few which are quite common: warm clothing (normally made with sheep wool), candles & candle holders, wooden crafts, kitchenware (I told you it´s diverse!), toys, house decoration items, Christmas´ stars for hanging, and many more.
My favorite products to buy at Christmas´ markets are the most traditional local ones, which, in the case of Germany, are nutcrackers, Räuchermännchen and Räucherhäuschen (incense smokers), lighted porcelain houses, and crafted candle holders like pyramids (Weihnachtspyramide), arches (Schwibbogen). You can probably find them cheaper once the Christmas´ season is over, but there´s something magical about shopping for these products at Christmas´ Markets. Another idea is to get a business card from these sellers there, then look for them again off season.