In Europe, December is the time when your soul gradually freezes and you have a legit excuse for alcohol intake. That aside, the amazing part about this time of the year anywhere in the western nations is – you guessed it, Christmas! I happened to be in Europe during this magical time when people deck their houses with lights and dress their dogs in custom-made sweaters. So here’s my account of Christmas markets in Europe – particularly the Christmas markets in Prague and Krakow.
Why see the Christmas markets in Europe?
Growing up Hindu, Christmas as celebrated in the West always caught my fancy. There is a feeling of festivity that is almost palpable. Well, who am I kidding, I was mostly fascinated by the thought of waking up to a large pile of gifts. But apart from this materialistic reason, I also loved it for all the things associated with it – snow, colourfully decorated trees, a bearded man who encourages obesity and cookies that contribute to said fat. So despite having visited the continent before, being there during Christmas time held a charm of its own. This brings me to the best thing European countries offer during this season – The Christmas Markets.
The origin of Christmas Markets in Europe
These markets are one of the better ideas that Germany’s had. They consist of temporary open-air stalls erected during the four weeks of Advent. Usually held in the town square, you can also find smaller markets in other popular areas of the city.
Dresden in Germany boasts of the oldest market and is one of the most popular destinations for Christmas markets – along with Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Stuttgart. But Christmas markets in any European city are just as much a treat.
What can you find at Christmas Markets?
I visited the Christmas markets in Prague and in Karkow. These markets feature local food and beverages, seasonal items and souvenirs by the dozen. You will find hand-knitted winter wear, wind-up music boxes, jewellery and many other things which you will definitely want but probably never use.
One of the best things about Christmas Markets – the food!
The markets also explain why people complain about holiday weight. The food stalls are always abuzz with activity. You will know which stalls sell the best food by the sheer size of the eagerly waiting crowd. You will see sizzling meat and fried chips sending curls of smoke into the frigid air.
A unique feature here is that food is served based on weight (of the food, not yours); so if you are a heavy eater you will be light in the pocket. If you are in Prague during this time, do try the fresh-out-the-oven Trdelnik! It is a sweet dough baked after being wrapped around a cylindrical rod. Some bakers go the extra mile and sprinkle cinnamon powder and slather the hollow insides with melted chocolate that makes it an orgasmic delight for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Bonus: You can read more about my personal recommendations for food and drinks to try in Prague here.
What better than a hot wine on a cold day?
Like me, if you have a low threshold for frigid cold then you can stroll on to one of the several stalls selling hot wines. It’s like regular wine, but hot. Very hot. The wine is multi-purpose, you can use it to warm your freezing extremities before consuming it and warming your insides. It also comes with wedges of citrus fruit, if you want to feel fancy. If you are a borderline alcoholic and love your wine you definitely must try it. Again, the more creative brewers spice their wines to give them different and unique flavours.
Entertainment and other things
At the Christmas market in Prague, they had set up a cute stable with farm animals such as goat, ponies and sheep. You can feed and pet them for a fee. You’ll find musicians playing instruments on the streets (this is quite common in Europe even outside of Christmas). In Krakow, there was even an ice skating rink set up just outside the market. All in all, there is a buzz and an amazing air of festivity.
Since all good things must come to an end, the markets are torn down after Christmas. People go back to their regular lives with fond, warm memories. Until next season, when the magic relives itself.