Beginning in late November and running throughout December (and often into the new year) some of the most enchanting events take place across the world — Christmas markets. Now, we’re not talking about flea markets in Podunk, USA, that feature plastic snow globes and tacky glittered ornaments to put on your fake Christmas tree; we’re talking elaborate candlelit displays, gourmet baked goodies and mulled wine, and artisanal craftspeople that’ll have you feeling like you stepped through a time portal into a scene from centuries past, where the magic of Christmas feels real, and the scenery and soothing scents are guaranteed to uplift your spirits no matter what your religious convictions may be.
These Christmas markets, also known as Holiday Markets, Christkindlmarkts (the spelling of this varies from city to city) or Weihnachtsmarkts, are based on a tradition that started way back in the late Middle Ages in German-speaking parts of Europe — a time when decorations and ornaments only came in handmade form from talented artists. Traditionally, these markets were held across Germany, Austria, Northern Italy, South Tyrol, and Alsace, but today these spirited celebrations can be found all over the world.
Unexpected places, such as Sapporo, Japan (which got into the mix because Munich is its sister city), and Quebec City now take part, turning sections of their cities into winter wonderlands you’d have to see to believe. Even spots in the United States, including New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, have put their own spin on the tradition, some of which invoke the ritual of incorporating a Christkind into the program, à la Nuremberg, Germany’s original market.
What is a Christkind, you ask? While it literally translates to "Christ child" and it was imagined by many as a little boy, when it comes to these markets, the Christkind is an angelic woman with long, flowing blond locks topped with a gilded crown, dressed in a robe of white and gold, who is responsible for reciting the customary prologue to commence the festivities. At some markets, you’ll find the Christkind schmoozing with guests, spreading holiday cheer, and even reading Christmas stories to children.
If you find yourself in any of these cities during the holiday season, make a point to explore a Christmas market to see the lights, trees, and tinsel, smell the pine and spiced wine, and gawk at the gorgeous pieces of art and antiques on display and for sale. You’ll be able to score eclectic gifts for your whole network, and no matter how Grinch-like you may naturally be, you’re pretty much guaranteed (at least) a momentary flashback to your former, childlike self (if not a full-on regression to a stuttering, awestruck tyke at the sight of Santa Claus sitting in his cushy red chair). Click through our slideshow and find the market located closest to you — or use this as a guide for a last-minute trip to get you into the holiday spirit!
Erik Mathes is a chef, wordsmith, and Chief Feaster @ Feasts of Fury, where he inspires readers to seek out, soak up and savor extraordinary eating experiences with his raging recipes and by showcasing other passionate epicureans’ stories. Join Erik and his loyal Feasters at feastsoffury.com and on Twitter @feastsoffury in addition to The Daily Meal.