The holiday season is upon us and traveling to Europe, in the late autumn gives opportunity to visit a Christmas Market. Many of the familiar customs of the winter holiday come from Germany and Nordic countries. The markets traditionally celebrate Advent of the Christian calendar, but over time have come to represent a more general holiday spirit and have become a tradition of their own as craft displays with entertainments and decorations, featuring their own particular local customs. There are very large markets in the central squares of major cities and quaint little markets in towns and villages. The markets open in late November and run just up to Christmas, though generally are closed Christmas Day or Eve. Some smaller ones are only open on weekends, the larger ones daily, or a combination. The main features of a Weinnachts Markt are Christmas themed crafts and goods of local artisans, culinary treats of local recipes, and traditional sweets of the region, mulled wine (Glühwein), and entertainments like skating rinks and performances. You might find singing angel choruses, or even Santa Clause on a high wire act.
There are unusual Christmas markets in unique locations at monasteries on lake islands or underneath railroad viaducts. Major cities like Munich, Frankfurt in the “Old Town” square, Stuttgart or Dusseldorf might have more than one market. Medieval Christmas markets are some of the most atmospheric, with period costumed entertainers, strolling minstrels and jesters. The markets in the Black Forest region are picturesque, surrounded by the thick snowy conifer forests, in Freiburg, Baden-Baden, the Ravenna Gorge and Gengenbach where two dozen windows of the historic Town Hall are opened one by one each day, to create one giant Advent calendar, and Hohenzollern Castle, the ancestral home of the Prussian royal family has its Royal Christmas Market.
There are markets held in other medieval castles like Heidelberg and Konigstein in Saxony. In Martin Luther country in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, the statue of Martin Luther watches over the Christmas market and the famous church where he nailed his 95 Theses to the doors to begin the protestant reformation. The market of big cities can easily be experienced by train to avoid icy roads and even some airports have their own versions and many are located just outside major train stations. The market phenomenon popularity spreads beyond Germany, there are Christmas Advent Markets in Austria and in Switzerland, with their own particular customs, including a Santa Village overlooking Lake Geneva in Montreux and in the heart of the shopping street of Zurich.