From Amsterdam to Zagreb, and hundreds of cities in between, the lead up to Christmas brings about a change in the air. Not just a change in seasonal weather, but also a change in the atmosphere. With the setup of wooden stalls, twinkling lights and festive decorations, cities begin to breathe life into their annual Christmas market. Let’s take a look into a short history on Christmas markets and how they have developed over time.  

If we step back in time, there are two different examples of how the Christmas market concept in Europe began. The first is from 1296 in Vienna, Austria when a two week long fair in December was approved by Duke Albrecht I; and the second is from 1384 in Bautzen, Germany when King Wenceslas IV of Bohemia allowed a market to be held for butchers to sell meat up until Christmas. Interestingly, neither of these instances had any ties to Christmas or religion. 

Christmas decoration
Photo by Cmophoto Net on Unsplash

We all know that Europe is the powerhouse continent for the ultimate Christmas market experience, however there is a dispute over who held the very first, official Christmas market.  

  • Dresden proclaims that its Striezelmarkt is the oldest in Germany with its first appearance in 1434; 
  • Strasbourg holds the honour of the oldest market in France, starting in 1570; 
  • And Vienna’s first ‘December market’ was held in 1298! Today, Vienna’s largest is called Christmas World and held on the Rathausplatz, featuring an advent theme park for families and young children and an outdoor ice-skating rink 
Dresden Christmas market
Dresden’s Striezelmarkt
Photo by pt_moon1 on Instagram

The rest of the continent then began to follow suit throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Markets were traditionally set up near a church to capture the widest audience of class, age and gender. Christmas markets have come a long way – from a central place to buy meat, baked goods and commodities to also including seasonal local specialties and gifts.  

Christmas in Singapore
Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay
Photo by christmaswonderlandsg on Instagram

When planning your holiday during the festive season, here are some handy tips to consider: 

  • If you want the most bang for your (Christmas market) buck, visit Germany which holds over 3,000 Christmas markets each year 
  • However, if Europe isn’t part of your December travel plans, never fear. The Christmas market tradition has expanded across the world, like the Great Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco and the Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore 
  • To tick off the highest Christmas market in Europe, head to Mount Pilatus in Switzerland where you must travel on the world’s steepest cog railway to reach the market held at a whopping 2,132 metres 
  • When at a European Christmas market, keep your stomach well-fed and watered with christstollen (fruit bread), thuringian raclette (melted cheese sandwiches) and glühwein (mulled wine) 
Strasbourg Christmas
Christmas in Strasbourg
Photo by samihomemaker on Instagram

Would you like to visit a European Christmas market? The Globus family of brands offer many winter holidays for you to choose from to indulge in: an Escapes by Globus tour, a festive time Avalon Waterways river cruise, and November/December tours with Cosmos

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