Special events make visit to German Christmas markets a must
Stars and Stripes December 1, 2023
While it might seem that an ever-increasing number of Christmas markets are opening up for their seasonal runs earlier than ever before, the first weekend of the Advent season usually serves as the start signal for most of them to begin welcoming their eager visitors. In 2023, the first Advent Sunday falls on Dec. 3, meaning the chances of finding holiday joy amongst the pine-bough-bedecked wooden huts this weekend is pretty good indeed.
While there’s no bad time to visit a German Christmas market, there are some dates that are particularly fortuitous. Here’s a look at some events that can make a market visit all the more unique and special:
Nuremberg: In a tradition dating back to the time of Martin Luther some 500 years ago, it’s not St. Nikolaus who delivers the presents but a figure known as the Christkind. She also helps to make the annual opening of the Nuremberg Christmas Market a festive event. At 5:30 p.m. on the Friday prior to the first Advent Sunday (Dec. 1 in 2023), the lights in and around Nuremberg’s Hauptmarkt square will be dimmed and the gathered masses will cast their eyes toward a perch set high upon the stunning 14th-century Frauenkirche. Following a short speech in which the blond-locked young woman welcomes visitors to this year’s edition of the market, choirs sing and brass musicians play. The Christkind then descends back to ground level, where she moves amongst the market visitors, handing out small gifts to the children she meets. Online: christkindlesmarkt.de/en/christkind
Frankfurt: It gets pretty loud in the city of skycrapers when the Frankfurter Stadtgeläut, or Grand Bell Ringing of Frankfurt, plays out. The clanging and chiming of 50 bells from 10 churches can be experienced in all its auditory glory from 4:30 p.m.-5 p.m. on Sat., Dec. 2 and once again from 5 p.m.-5:30 p.m. on Dec. 24. Saint Nikolaus will make an appearance live on stage at the Römerberg at 5:10 p.m. Dec. 6. On the weekend of Dec. 16-17, visitors can enjoy a trip on an old-timey steam train chugging alongside the Main River. The journey begins and ends at the Eiserner Steg. Tickets can be purchased upon boarding. Online: tinyurl.com/3ezrt3ms
Stuttgart: On the first Advent weekend, the part of the city known as Möhringen hosts a market with a difference: the 37 or so stands set up here are all manned by charitable organizations. Shoppers can find not only unique, handmade items here, but also spend freely in the knowledge that the profits made from their purchases will help support worthy causes within the local community. The market runs 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Dec. 2. Online: tinyurl.com/3pewjdtr
Bernkastel-Kues: On Dec. 2, the Mosel River becomes the focal point as guests atop the bridge and on the riverbanks await the arrival of a group of brave swimmers bearing lit torches, whose honor it is to accompany St. Nikolaus as he arrives in town by boat. Upon arrival, St. Nick will hand out chocolate to the kids in the crowd. At 6 p.m. on Dec. 16, it’s all eyes to the skies as fireworks are set off to music. The Middle-Ages facades of the houses will be lit up by lasers starting at 8 p.m. Dec. 22 and 7 p.m. Dec. 23. Online: tinyurl.com/mvvjhp9p (pdf).
Wiesbaden: From Dec. 8-10, shoppers after quality handicrafts can find leather goods, silk scarves, handmade jewelry and the like at the Weihnachtsverkaufsausstellung “Kunsthandwerk,“ a handicrafts sale and exhibition. The event takes place in the foyer of the Town Hall from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. On Dec. 10, visitors can enjoy an “American Christmas” from 3:30 p.m.-5 p.m. on the stage next to the Town Hall. Online: tinyurl.com/522c9x2v
Dresden: The city’s annual Christmas market, known as the Striezelmarkt, will take place for the 589th time in 2023, making it Germany’s oldest event of its kind. On the second weekend of Advent each year, visitors are in for some sweet treats. Following a 500-person parade made up of members of Dresden’s Bakers’ Guild and other traditional clubs, the festive cutting of a massive Stollen will take place at 12:15 p.m. Dec. 9. The half-kilo cuts of this fruit bread made of nuts, spices and dried or candied fruit and covered in a mantle of sugar are then sold for 10 euros per piece. Proceeds from the sale of the Stollen benefit local charities. On Dec. 10, spicy gingerbread cookies enjoy their time in the spotlight. Online: tinyurl.com/mvkavt2f
Munich: They might look a real fright, but the hairy, scary wooden-masked Krampus won’t do anybody any harm. From 3 p.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 10, around 300 or these gnarly Alpine folk figures will make their usual run from Sendlinger Strasse to the Marienplatz, rattling chains and cracking whips as they go. Online: tinyurl.com/ypyyhvka
Annaberg-Buchholz: In the state of Saxony’s Ore Mountains, mining traditions run deep. Parades and processions made up of costumed miners, which originally served to honor the lords of the land on special occasions, make up an important part of the state’s Christmas traditions. The largest parade of its kind takes place on the last Advent weekend. At 1:30 p.m. Dec. 23, about 1,000 marchers clad in the festive dress of their particular regions will join forces in a grand parade. The parade is followed by a closing concert in front of the town’s St. Annenkirche. Online: tinyurl.com/4ct6kh47