Days have been short and cold in Germany, but fortunately the tradition of Christmas markets seems to have everything you need to warm the body and soul: fried foods, hot mulled wine, and camaraderie. Over the past month, we’ve visited markets in Mainz, Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, Rüdesheim, Köln, Würzburg, Munich, Nürnberg, and Bamberg. Not far beyond the borders of Germany we also visited Strasbourg, France; Prague, Czech Republic; and Valkenburg, Holland. While the markets are similar, they’re great fun to visit again and again. Here are a few of my favorite things from the Weihnachtsmärkte (sing to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”):
On the twelfth day of Christmas, the markets gave to me…
12 Chestnuts roasting
As if out of the Christmas song itself, you can smell Heiβe Maronen even before you see them. In my opinion, this is the best part. The chewy texture mixed with a smoky, meaty taste is a little too strange for me.
11 Skaters skating
Mainz, Munich, Köln, and a few other markets have small ice skating rinks and skate rentals available. Köln even has additional curling lanes.
10 Bratwursts grilling
While Bratwursts are a staple at any festival, there are many other choices from the grill or oven: steaks, mushrooms, Spätzle (noodles), and Flammkuchen (pizza-like flatbread).
9 Toys a-clacking
Traditional toys and other crafts at the Christmas Markets are hand-carved works of art. In addition to wooden toys, you can find blown glass ornaments, beeswax candles, and knit sweaters and hats.
8 Kartoffeln puffing
Kartoffelpuffer, also known as Reibekuchen = potato pancakes. This is my favorite Christmas Market food made in the greasy deep fryer and served with applesauce.
7 Hearts a-baking
The smell of Lebkuchen (gingerbread) hearts mixes with the equally sweet candied nuts that they usually share a stand with. The hearts are frosted with “Ich liebe dich” (“I love you”) and sappier messages, or holiday greetings.
6 Krampuses prowling
In Munich and Prague, we encountered this Santa Claus counterpart who is a tradition in parts of Bavaria, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Krampus travels with St. Nick and takes the bad children away in a sack (or at least scares the hell out of them).
5 GLÜHWEIN MUGS
Glühwein (hot mulled wine) is undoubtedly the highlight of the Christmas Markets. Each market or, in some cases, each area or stand in the market has its own mug that you pay a deposit for. And you don’t have to buy wine to get a mug. You can also order a hot chocolate, coffee, or rum punch in a festive mug.
4 Chocolate fruits
Apples, bananas, pineapple, grapes… if it’s a fruit, you can buy it covered in chocolate. Usually the fruit is sold in kebab form for easy festival eating, but sometimes it’s arranged in the shape of an animal.
3 French crêpes
Crêpes are usually served with your choice of Nutella, chocolate, or cinnamon and sugar. This year we also discovered Baumstriezel, which are rings of fried dough also available with these toppings.
2 Christmas caves
In addition to a regular Christmas Market, Valkenburg in Holland has two other markets in caves. Besides a slightly muggy atmosphere and a more commercial feel to many of the stands, this was amazing to experience.
And mistletoe straight from a tree
‘Tis the season for mistletoe to grow like floating orbs in nearly every tree you pass here, and to be found for sale in every market. While mistletoe has a romantic use at Christmas time, it’s actually a parasitic plant that attaches to its host tree. Think about that next you kiss someone under the mistletoe.
Frohes Fest aus dem Weihnachtsmarkt!/Happy Holidays from the Christmas Market!