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Traditional European Christmas Markets

Wien Rathaus Christkindlmarkt Dez2006B

Vienna's Christkindlmarkt in the market square in front of City Hall

These days, traditional European-style Christmas markets are held worldwide and seem to be catching on. Juried markets and rented booths make for the finest wares made by the finest artisans. In my own locale, the German Christmas Market in Vancouver, BC, has been running for several years and, this year, Toronto is having its 2nd annual event, according to MarketWatch. From December 2-18, more than 100,000 people will attend Lowe’s Toronto Christmas Market. Set in the Distillery Historic District, the “event recreates the magic of traditional European Christmas markets that began in the early 1400s.”

 Many of those markets have had a continuous following since that time and wonderful ones can be found in some of Europe’s most beautiful cities.  I want to write more than travelogue style, though, since you’ll want to know what it is like for the artisans who sell. According to Shirley O’Bryan Smith in an AP story, vendors in Budapest, pay the equivalent of $3,500 (US) to rent space at the city’s main market, but they usually make about $14,000 (US), too. “The merchandise is quite good. Sellers are judged by experts representing craftsmen and folk artists, and only those of high skill are allowed to set up shop,” she said. Vienna’s  famous Christkindlmarkt is set in front of the Rathaus, or City Hall and will probably attract a couple of million visitors this season. O’Bryan Smith reports that the market in Salzburg, Mozart’s hometown, includes many musical presentations and that the one in Bratislava, Slovakia, often features pottery and decorations in the shape of fish because that is their traditional dish at Christmas. I think the location of a Christmas market must have great bearing on the atmosphere. The market in Cologne, Germany, must be breathtakingly beautiful near the cathedral and there are others: the Home of the Gnomes in the Old Town, the Angels Market, the Fairytale Christmas Market, the Floating Market on the MS Wappen von Köln, the Christmas Market at Stadtgarten, and the new Maritime Christmas Market on the Rhine River. It sounds absolutely incredible!

Christmas Market in Strasbourg, France

Doug Oster reported on the Christmas markets of Paris, saying they “have their roots in the Alsace region of France, which borders Germany and has been part of that country off and on throughout history. The markets themselves stretch back to the 14th century.” As with other European centres, Parisian markets are located throughout the city and are called marché de Noël. According to a TravelPod blogger, there are 10 good markets in the city; clickhere to see the list. Of note is the entry about La Maison du Limousin, which can be found along the Champs-Elysees. It caters to foodies and features, in part, Limoges porcelain. Changing tack, O’Bryan Smith brought up an interesting point about whether

Attendees can warm themselves by the fire at Schwimmender Christkindlmarkts

Europe’s financial crisis and its affected economies will cause a downturn in attendance and buying habits. Slovakian economist Vladimir Vano had a different take on the situation, however, and one that should interest us. He said that the markets aren’t just for buying and selling, according to O’Bryan Smith, but that they are “really an old version of modern online social networks — a place to connect.” Vano continued, saying, “In times of trouble…people want that connection to be more personal.” O’Bryan Smith wrote, “If you add in the nostalgic spirit of the holidays, you have what he calls ‘behavior economics,’ and that could keep the Christmas markets strong this year.” (I am so glad to hear it because the people who display their wares must have been working on them for a good part of the year, if not all year.) In addition to the actual markets, local economies are heavily involved and the Christmas markets support a major tourist industry. This MarketWatch article provides an interesting behind the scenes glimpse into the hospitality machinery for British tourists who are interested in spending holiday time at these markets. For more information about other markets held throughout Europe, click here. To read more about the Christmas market that was voted the most beautiful in Europe, click here. To be in Europe at Christmas-time! I can’t imagine anything more romantic or lovely. However, we do have a charming alternative in Leavenworth, Washington, which is fashioned after a Bavarian village. I do so hope my girlfriends and I can make it down there this winter!

Christkindlmarkt fare, Salzburg, Austra

 

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