As you may have noticed, we, at the Oktoberfest for Teens, absolutely love the German Christmas Markets. We’ve talked a lot about what they are and where to find the best ones, but, in running with the winter-activity theme of this week’s Infosheet, we thought we would tell you a little bit about how Christmas Markets came to be.
Did someone wake up one morning and decide that having stalls with food and presents before Christmas was a profitable business opportunity, map out a business plan and get to work? Not quite…
The history of Christmas Markets dates back to the late Middle Ages in Germany. Back in these times it was common to have seasonal markets throughout the year and particularly the markets in the winter months were welcomed among the villagers, as it added some light to the long winter nights. The first Christmas Markets were not much more than the seasonal markets and only lasted a couple of days. Instead of the gorgeous huts and stands which line the modern Christmas Markets, traders would lay out their goods in the street.
Throughout the years the markets grew, however, only local tradesmen were allowed to sell their goods at the Christmas Markets, which made each market unique as they were filled with local delicacies and traditional products. Although some products are found at all Christmas Markets throughout Germany, this tradition is still upheld and each region’s Christmas Markets have a distinctive character.
Many people have argued that Christmas has only recently become heavily commercialised, and, although this is true to some extent, the main pre-Christmas activity has been gift-buying at Christmas markets since the early 17th century! Initially all Christmas Markets were held around a town or city’s church to attract churchgoers, however, they became so popular that a priest in Nürnberg in 1616 complained that no one attended his afternoon service on Christmas Eve as they were all outside the church enjoying the Christmas Market!
Although the common German name for Christmas Markets is Weihnachtsmarkt, in some regions, particularly in the south, they are referred to as a Christkindlsmarkt (Christ child’s market). This tradition dates back to Martin Luther who suggested that children should receive presents from “the Christ child.”
Whilst Christmas Markets have come a long way from laying goods out in the streets, the core functions of socialising, eating and drinking and purchasing Christmas presents still remain. Most traditional German handicrafts can be found at all Christmas Markets in the weeks before Christmas, including nutcrackers, wooden figurines and tree ornaments, straw stars, toys and glass ornaments.