Christmas in Europe is much more than just a one-day affair. The centuries-old tradition of Christmas Markets makes sure the merrymaking lasts for months. By Rashima Nagpal
Many moons before December 25 strikes, the streets of Europe begin to sparkle with the Christmas spirit. Come autumn, Europeans begin planning for the cold holiday season ahead. Lights and candles, traditional porcelain, ornaments, gifts, and of course, a new tree for the house—the checklist is endless, so is the joy.
From towns big and small to hamlets far and deep, anticipation blankets the entire continent. The minutiae of the festival may vary from country to country—ginger bread to apple pies, the Swedish Gävle Goat to Denmark’s mischievous elf Nisse—but the jolly good spirit remains the same.
The European culture of Christmas—steeped in mythology— took a fancy turn when winter markets began to spring up in the 13th century. Later, they donned a more festive avatar and became popular as ‘Christmas Markets’. Vienna’s ‘December Market’ of 1298 is one of the earliest precursors of these fairs.
Today, nearly 20 venues are decked up as Christmas Markets that light up the Austrian capital. From the Viennese Dream Christmas Market that comes alive in front of the City Hall to the baroque-style Christmas Village Belvedere Palace, each one is a hoarder’s wet dream.
German Markets have become synonymous with Christmas Markets because of the country’s age-old obsession with the festival. The first Christkindlmarkt was recorded in the hilltop town of Bautzen in 1384.
What began as a meat market then has evolved over the years to accommodate larger-than-life celebrations that involve singing and dancing. Founded as a one-day market in 1434, the month-long Dresden Striezelmarkt is one of Germany’s grandest today.
In Italy, you can sip on local mulled wine and get dazzled by a gazillion fairy lights at the Bolano Christmas Market, which is all set to host its 29th edition. In Alsace, France, Strasbourg’s Christmas fair has a reputation of attracting close to two million visitors each year. Having hosted Christmas Markets since 1570, this part-French part-German town puts up a stellar show along the River Rhine.
The world’s steepest cog railway takes you to the highest Christmas Market in Europe, at 2,132 metres, on Mt Pilatus, Switzerland. Elsewhere, in Rovaniemi, Lapland—the legendary home of Santa Claus—things are aptly dreamy. Peppered with reindeer sleighs and snow-capped chalets, the Santa Claus Village doubles up as a year-round Christmas market— possibly, the most unique one of them all.