It’s that time of year again! When the Germans come alive and head to their local Christmas markets! Some background on my personal experience:
I did study abroad in Germany for Fall 2014. I did this in a small village town of Fulda, Germany. The town was always eerily silent, and as Americans we were often asked to quiet down by locals while we were out in public and just chatting with each other. Everything is business like and to-the-point, as common American mannerisms and “how are you?”s are seen as “fake” and “way too personal a question” in German culture. Less polite chit-chat, less time, more efficient.
And then: Christmas Markets.
I went to my local bank on an errand and the teller seemed almost to be almost bouncing with delight. When I was finished with my business she gave me a chocolate Santa. There was a different feeling in the town that day, a giddiness that wasn’t there before. It was early December and overnight the whole town of Fulda transformed. There were Christmas lights everywhere, and the Christmas market set up and opened, changing the once empty town center into a sort of bazaar, where everyone was laughing, drinking glühwein, and shopping for Christmas presents.
Personally I am half-Jewish on my mother’s side (so I identify as Jewish), but we celebrated Christmas growing up because my dad is Catholic. We put up the Christmas tree and the menorah. Christmas is so commercialized in America, it’s hard not to participate. There’s Christmas sales everywhere you look at every major store. Black Friday has lines for miles, people sometimes waiting for days.
In Germany, Christmas is three days, December 24-26. It’s more of a culture shift and gifts are more hand-made or from these Christmas markets set up by locals selling their goods which are also usually handmade. So there’s usually popcorn of all kinds, like at a carnival and, of course, pretzels, and sausages. Also, Germany is very vegan friendly, especially when there’s a growing Islamic population who eat only halāl foods, which doesn’t contain pork, so it’s easy to find vegan food advertised as vegan and halal. A vegan diet fits into many different dietary groups, and I felt for this reason Germany has recognized this, especially as a marketing point. For each of the stalls theirs usually candles, furs (I stayed away from those), dolls, clothing for cold weather, and traditional gifts like German incense smokers. The German incense smoker comes apart and when you light the incense and put it back together, it makes it look like an old man smoking.
And then there’s the glühwein. It’s a warm spiced mulled red wine that is sold in the Christmas market. There’s just so much about this that is German. Warmed rich alcohol on a cold day, the smell wafting through the entire the town. Also, you bring your own glühwein mug, pictured above. It has a mark for where the drink if measured to. This goes along with Germany’s well-known eco-friendly customs. You bring your own mug, so you there’s no waste. If you use a mug there you can give them a “deposit” and they’ll give you a glass mug. Then you take the mug back and they give you back the deposit.
This was great, because, as a vegan, it’s sometimes hard to find cultural foods and drinks that I can consume. Food is culture, and I’m happy I was able to participate fully and taste all that warm spiced wine had to offer during a cold winter day.
The lights of the Christmas markets make the town beautiful at night. You can find markets in many major German cities. Fulda was small, but it sincerely brought a new energy to the town. In Frankfurt, the Christmas market shut down entire streets. The tents set up were enormous. I was able to get many Chirstmas gifts there, especially locally made chocolates. I would definitely revisit the Christmas markets in the future and not just in Germany, but all around Europe. If you’re thinking of exactly when to travel, I would definitely recommend going during December to get the experience of local customs and arts that are brought to the center of many major European cities during the time of Christmas markets.