It is usually on the last week of November that I begin putting up Christmas decorations while humming Pasko Na Sinta Ko and getting into the Christmas spirit. By Pinoy standards, this is embarrassingly late. After all, SM malls (a popular mall chain in the Philippines) has already started playing Christmas carols on the first day of September. In Europe, especially in Amsterdam where I live, this is unspeakably early. Here, Christmas is verboten until Sinterklaas is celebrated on the 5th of December. Only then can Christmas trees be discreetly rolled out for sale and Christmas mentioned with a kind of cautious cheer.
Luckily for me, the Weihnachtsmarkt of Germany is just a few hours away by train or car. Germany’s Christmas markets are famous for their picturesque scenes reminiscent of Christmas wonderlands. Seeing them, one can’t help but think that the Germans must have bottled up their Christmas spirit all year long just to have this incredibly beautiful release of the holiday cheer of sort –something that I can’t fully indulge in Holland.
Whether you’re a wide-eyed first-timer or a longtime veteran, there are a few things you shouldn’t miss at a German Christmas market. Here’s a list of my top 10 things to do to make your experience here even more special.
1. Get caught up in the scale and spectacle of a big city market.
For its sheer size, nothing beats the wow factor of a Christmas market in one of Germany’s major cities. At my first Christkindlmarkt in Köln, I’ll never forget the sight of the Kölner Dom (with 515-foot high towers and the largest façade of any Church in the world) looming over me from behind a veil of twinkling Christmas lights. Whether it’s a giant gingerbread man or a Christmas tree over 100 feet tall, German cities know how to go big… or go home.
2. Marvel at the fairytale feel of a small town market.
Away from the big city crowds, a Christkindlmarkt becomes intimate, cozy, and magical, with wintry scenes right out of a storybook. I discovered this when, while visiting the city of Aachen, our German host suggested a side trip to the small town of Monschau nearby. Decorated by a winding river and picturesque half-timbered houses, Monschau turned out to be a snow-covered gem tucked into the hills, and an unforgettable Christkindlmarkt experience.
3. Choose a handcrafted ornament to add to your Christmas tree.
Traditional handicrafts may be a dying art, but in Germany, they come alive at Christmastime. From blown glass to hand-carved wood and more, German Christmas markets have a wonderful variety of ornaments to choose from. My husband and I always have a hard time picking out just one! A perfectly matching set of store-bought ornaments can’t equal the unique sentimental value of a collection built up slowly over time.
4. Add a new piece to your family’s belen.
If your family has a belen, German Christmas markets are the best place to find unique, realistic furnishings handcrafted in the tiniest, most adorable proportions. Whether you’re looking for a sweet figure of the newborn baby Jesus or a miniature clay jug of water for your shepherds, this is the place to deck your belen halls in style.
5. Find out what the town’s Christmas specialty is… and eat it.
Every town has its signature treat that only makes a very special appearance at Christmas time. For example, Aachen’s Christmas markets are filled with the spiced cookies called Aachener printen. Make sure to try it… it might be another year till you get your next chance.
6. Fill up on grilled meats and wurst.
Germans love their pork as much as Pinoys do. Sizzling hot and fresh off the grill, various types of wursten (sausages) and grilled meats make inexpensive dinners that are easy to eat while strolling around the market. My carnivorous husband especially loves the Aachen market for the stands that sell one meter of meat on a stick.
7. Stay warm with a mug of glühwein. Glühwein, or hot spiced wine, is the best way to stay warm at a Christmas market. A few Euros’ deposit is part of the price of each drink, in case you wish to take home the mug, which typically shows the year and name of the market, as a souvenir. Prost!
8. Take pictures in the snow.
After three years of living in Europe, I still turn into a little kid when it starts to snow. A snow shower during a Christmas market makes for a truly picture-perfect winter wonderland. Folks back home love to see these pictures, too!
9. Go market hopping.
Visit more than one market in a day. Major cities typically have one main market in the center of town, with smaller, different-themed markets within easy walking or commuting distance. Or, make a weekend of it and visit the smaller towns surrounding the big cities to get the best of both worlds.
10. Experience the wonder of Christmas through the eyes of a child.
They say Christmas is for children. True, but to that I add: there’s a child in every one of us. Don’t be a Scrooge! Let the festive spirit take hold and let a Christmas market be the playground for the child in you. Eat too much lebkuchen, have some extra whipped cream on your gluhwein, splurge on something beautiful for your family’s Christmas tree. After all, Christmas and the Christkindlmarkt only come once a year.
About the author
Deepa Paul is a freelance writer living in Amsterdam with her Filipino husband, one-year old daughter and Singaporean cat. She blogs about everyday life, travel, motherhood and other passions at www.currystrumpet.com.