Oh, Deutschland! Oh, La France! Oh, Europa – to say that you know how to make Christmas magical is an understatement. Never do I feel the spirit of Christmas, unless I am here in Europe. This beautiful Christmas spirit embraced me around this time in late 2019. That year, we covered three different Christmas markets: Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Heidelburg, and Kaiserslautern – all special in their own ways, but I think it was Rothenburg that solidified my love of Germany.
Not long after we returned home, COVID-19 took the world by storm, changing life as we know it. 2020 saw the famous Weihnachtsmarkt closed – but the Europeans rallied. And though not the same by any means, mugs and glüwein were sold online and at restaurants. Villages and towns were still beautifully decorated, if not as vibrant as years before.
We had just settled into our temporary lodging in December, prime Weihnachtsmarkt season. Mask mandates, stricter lockdowns, and COVID blanketed Europe. The only stores that were open were those of necessity, like grocery stores and gas stations. Restaurant dining rooms were closed and the deliveries were dropped off at a 6ft distance. So, when markets began announcing dates this year, the excitement was palpable from Europeans and expats alike.
As October turned into November, the opening of the markets became uncertain in some places. And, sure enough, the markets in Bavaria began to close, starting with Munich. Not to fear, though, many were maintaining their opening dates – and so the mad rush to the Weihnachtsmarkt began.
Our first market of the year was Trier – it’s close, smaller this year, and seemed to be maintaining the 2G/3G rules set by Germany. Excitedly, we packed into our cars, bundled for the cold and rain, and headed to the oldest city in Germany.
I cannot tell you how exciting it was to see the Christmas windmill, standing tall above the Kathe Wohlfarht hut, its little windmill blades spinning and little people in the center circling. The aroma of baked goods and warm glüwein floated in the air like a magical wind with the intentions of enchanting us – and it worked.
After waiting in line to check in (impfpass QR code & ID ready!), I handed Tristan a 20 euro bill, sent him on his way, and made a beeline for drinks and treats: my main goal of any Christmas market is the little mug that comes with the glüwein/hot chocolate!
Christmas markets are traditionally a hodge podge of different vendors and food booths. These vendors include, but are not limited to, Christmas ornaments, clothing, trinkets, and baked goods. But it’s the food booths that excite me the most. I love tasting all the different varieties of street food from Germany (and often France and Switzerland in our area as well). Schnitzel, wurst, latke’s served with applesauce, dampfnudeln, and so much more! Oh, it was so delightful.
Trier had two smaller markets, that we saw. One market was held in the main square, while the other was held in front of the Dom. While we enjoyed the the delicious treats, glüwein, and trinkets of the market, we didn’t appreciate how crowded the market was. In some areas, it was shoulder to shoulder, which, to us, defeated the purposed of having regulations. We ambled around the old town area, marveling at the lights and enjoying each others company (Tristan and April exasperatedly attempted to teach me better camera angles), before heading home full and happy.
We were so enthused with going to the markets again, that we decided to hit another one the next day. What’s exciting about this market is that Tristan and I also enjoyed visiting our 6th country (not including the US)! Luxembourg is about an hour and half from where we live in Germany. For such a short drive, it packed a huge punch!
Tristan and I met with a friend from work, and her family. We had such a blast. Luxembourg lived up to the standard of prior Christmas Markets: the lights, the food, the rides, the excitement and joy! Again, we waited in line at the first of 9 (yes, 9!) markets around the city. They checked our QR codes and ID’s, then sent us in.
I adore seeing the lines of food and trinket huts – their little triangle roofs dwarfed by the imposing architecture they’re closed in by. Christmas lights hung from every tree, lighting the night. The ambiance was magical.
As usual, I sent Tristan off with some pocket money for food and trinkets. We enjoyed a hot Irish coffee (that I couldn’t finish as it was so strong), glüwein, latke’s, and currywurst. We found some tree ornaments and a topper, then headed over to the Wantermaart location. This market had rides and more food and trinket huts. It’s slightly larger with more lights. It was absolutely gorgeous from the top of the ferris wheel.
While we didn’t make it to the other 7 markets, we left content with the time we spent at the two. Tristan and I also decided that we needed to visit Luxembourg during the day to explore the city.
There were a couple of other markets that we hit, that were smaller, one of them being the one in Maastricht. As our first time in the Nederlands (The Netherlands), this cozy little market was perfect for enjoying the holiday season while being able to explore the city around it.
It was pretty dreary and cold, but the excitement of visiting a new place with friends, eating delicious street food, and wandering through the old city streets made up for it. We meandered the market, nibbled on some potato cakes, sipped hot chocolate, picked out some Christmas goodies, then trickled into the crowded streets for some shopping. There were so many different aromas that crowded the air around us. We pass fish stalls, flower stands, smelly cheese and sausage stands, and a good many restaurants.
Leslie and I ran amok in a Dutch home goods store; we excitedly perused a bookstore housed in an old church; rode the ferries wheel (a tradition Tristan and I refuse to omit when the opportunity arises)… then headed on to Valkenburg for dinner.
Sitting down for a quick bite to eat (everything except essential stores closes at 6pm), we learned that the Netherlands were in for another lockdown beginning the following day. The Dutch that we spoke with seemed in good spirits about it, albeit a bit tired of the pandemic (as many of us are).
Unfortunately, since everything closes early, we were unable to really do any pleasure shopping, but we did hit a Dutch grocery store where I bought some of the most delicious bread, tasty cookies, and found this gem:
Yes, I regret not buying it.
Our own city had a small market in the main square.
We also briefly visited one of the markets in Brussels. We found it to be too crowded to enjoy, but didn’t leave without glühwein and kinderpunch. We did, however, enjoy the beautiful twinkling Christmas lights and decorations that hung from building to building in the pedestrian walkways, as well as the delicious aromas of waffles and hot chocolate that fills the air.
HISTORY OF THE WEIHNACHTSMARKT
The history of the Weihnachtsmarkt begins simply, practically, and like most things in Europe, in the late Middle Ages. As many markets of the time, what was known then as a “winter market” was a way for people to buy, sell, and trade goods to prepare for the coming cold winter months. According to 5 Minute History, these markets developed in Vienna around 1296. The markets were known as “Dezembermarkt” where shopkeepers and merchants were granted the ability to sells their wares for people needing supplies for the winter months.
Soon, the markets spread all over Europe, and families began to sell their handmade goods, food, and other items. Winter markets eventually became Christmas markets, the earliest of which is said to have been in Müchen (Munich) 1310, Bautzen in 1384, and Frankfurt in 1393 (5 Minute History).
Such an impressively long tradition! A tradition that Tristan and I have come to enjoy.
Have you ever been to any Christmas markets?