From late November each year, Europe starts getting into Christmas mode. Decorations go up in shop windows, fairy lights adorn the streets and Christmas trees are erected. But nothing quite says 'Christmas' in Europe like the annual Christmas markets. Wooden huts appear in city squares and village streets - and even along Paris' famous Champs Elysees, where market stall holders set up to sell their Christmas wares.
Christmas markets have long been a tradition in Europe, particularly in the German-speaking countries. The oldest known Christmas market is Dresden's Striezelmarkt which was first held in 1434. Strasbourg's Christmas market dates back to 1574 and attracts around 2 million visitors every year!
The markets serve not only as a place to buy Christmas gifts, they are also a meeting place for locals where they can meet after work and enjoy a hot mulled wine and a chat with friends.
Whilst Australians celebrate Christmas on December 25, for many Europeans, Christmas Eve is the time they gather together with loved ones. Family and friends celebrate with an evening meal on December 24, followed by their exchange of gifts. For some, it's then off to a midnight church service.
This is how we celebrate Christmas with my German-born husband's family and it's nice to be able to enjoy 'two' Christmas celebrations, each different to the other. Italians generally enjoy their big day of celebration on December 25, as do the Dutch, and it's tradition to spend the day with family.
German children receive a visit from St Nicholas on December 6 and if they've been good, he leaves goodies in their shoes. St Nicholas is often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht (the 'bad Santa'). He is dressed in dark clothing and serves as a warning to children to be good.
The Christmas tree isn't normally displayed in private homes in German-speaking countries until the morning of Christmas Eve and gifts are then placed under it to be distributed after dinner. In Italy, however, the tree and decorations are put up on December 8 when the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated.
For me, visiting Europe in the lead up to Christmas left wonderful memories. We were blessed with plenty of snow which added a certain charm to the wooden market stalls, and made a visit to the Christmas market seem just a little surreal. The temporary ice skating rink set up nearby, the snow plough clearing snow from the pedestrian mall and church spires sprinkled in snowflakes, it really was like being in a fairy tale.
Have you celebrated Christmas in Europe or do you have any European Christmas traditions that you celebrate at home?
|Read all my articles about Christmas in Europe by clicking the image below.