Don’t look now but we’re only three months away from Christmas. And while we Americans won’t be doing any travel to a European Christmas Market this year, I’m hopeful – beyond hopeful, actually – that we’ll once again be invited across the pond some day in the future. For now, we need Christmas Markets in America.
What’s the magic of a Christmas market? Growing up I was used to an ice rink in Cleveland’s Public Square, and a few reefs placed around the city. But nothing compares to the magic of a European Christmas Market.
Christmas Markets started in Germany, in the Late Middle Ages (1250-1500 AD). The first official Christmas Market on record was in Dresden, Germany in 1434. In a Christmas Market, you’ll typically find wooden stalls selling foods, drinks, local goods and Christmas items. Helping everyone get jolly, stalls will sell warm mulled wine late into the night.
Christmas Markets are ubiquitous throughout Europe – London itself will have at least 15, and Berlin has more than 70! Unfortunately they’re more difficult to find a Christmas Market in America. They’re especially absent throughout the midwest, a strange fact considering a near 30% German ancestry in the midwest states.
While my local area is home to the Maple Festival, Party in the Park, and Better in Mentor, there’s not a single Christmas Market. All of which would be suitable spaces to host a Christmas Market. These Christmas Markets would act as an outdoor gathering space, building the local community. They could showcase the best of local businesses, and draw-in citizens from the local communities, strengthening the regional economies.
Finally – and the most important – they’re a rest from the breakneck pace Americans experience in the build up to Christmas. Starting from Thanksgiving, up until the new year, we’re running non-stop to prepare to host family members, purchase gifts, all while continuing to work at our day jobs.
Let’s end the days of mall Santas, and lets bring Christmas Markets to America – and to our local communities!
Since we don’t have the Christmas Markets we deserve in the USA, here’s a few of my favorites in Europe.
My Favorite European Christmas Markets
My co-workers once put a rule in place no one could mention Bruges because I’d never shut up about it. But seriously, Bruges… what more could someone ask for? Chocolate. Beer. Amazing people. And have I said how picturesque it is? Bruges may be heaven. The main Christmas Market is in the Market Square. The square is surrounded by step-gabled architecture, with the 13th century Belfry Tower providing a watchful eye over the market. Chocolate shops provide a place to warm up after a day of ice skating, and give you the opportunity to find out why Bruges is the hot chocolate capital of the world. While Bruges does not have the most, nor the largest Christmas Markets, there is no doubt it is a good time.
Prague is home to multiple Christmas markets, with the largest being in the Old Town Square, or “Staroměstské náměstí” in Czech. The square is known for the Prague Orloj, the astronomical clock, located on the Old Town Hall.
The Old Town Square Christmas Market not only features an incredible amount of food, but you’ll even find farm animals. Go ahead and pet a goat. Prague also has 4 other Christmas Markets, with one of my favorites being the Peace Square Market, which had several stalls offering arts and crafts, making for great gifts.
It’s honestly not fair to Vienna to list it 3rd. The Viennese Dream Market in front of the Vienna City Hall is all encompassing and remarkably beautiful. With what feels like rows of never ending stalls for every age, for every crowd, and an ice rink that weaves in and around the market, there’s nothing left to imagination. In fact, they even have Christmas Carolers from around the world to visitors.
There’s several other markets throughout Vienna, as well, making for a great weekend trip. My only complaint is how spread out Vienna is; it’s not always walking distance between them.
Common Christmas Market FAQs
I respect your wish to experience a Christmas Market. I am sadly yet to experience a Christmas Market in the USA, but Trips to Discover has a list here.
It will really depend on the market. Some will consist only of stalls selling food and drinks, while others will have large ice rinks setup, or another activities for kids to participate in.
At most markets, there will be gifts you can purchase at a Christmas Market. While many will sell things like chocolate and cheese, which make great gifts in my opinion, you’ll also find stalls for things like purses, jewelry or even art work.