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Origin of Christmas Markets

When Germans think of Christmas, the first thing most think of are the highly traditional Christmas Markets.  These events, magnificent in their simplicity and charm, run from the first day of Advent until Christmas Eve. And for centuries, they have remained largely unchanged, untainted by the commercialism that has infected Christmas in so many places.

For Germans, the Christmas Markets have been an indispensable part of Advent for several centuries.  They originated in the 15th century in Dresden, when in 1434; the Duke of Dresden allowed a market one day prior to Christmas Eve. Since then, people have had the privilege of buying their “Festtagsbraten” at such Markets.

As the years passed, various artisans also joined the market.  Meanwhile, locals who found themselves a bit short of money started using the Market to make some extra cash; they produced their own homemade handicrafts and sold them at the Market.

Then in 1471, “Stollen”, which was a special kind of Christmas cake, started being distributed in Dresden.  Hundreds of years later, Stollen would become a hugely-popular tradition inextricably linked with Christmas and various Christmas Markets.

Equally important as a tradition has been the drinking of a cup of warm Glühwein, or mulled wine, as you observe the festivities as the market.

Easily the most well-known Christmas Market has been the one held each year in Nuremberg.  The first recorded observance of this Christmas Market (known as Christkindlesmarkt or “Christ Child Market”) is in 1628.

Even though we typically trace the history of Christmas Markets to the Dresden market’s opening in 1434, it is likely that there were similar events held even before then in some larger cities.  For instance, we find a record of a Bautzen Christmas market in 1384.  But Dresden’s is renowned for really being the first to set the atmosphere that still prevails today.

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