Nothing quite shouts Christmas quite like Christmas markets. Lit up by the warm glow of red, green and gold lights, these rambling bustles of festive activity embrace the best parts of the most wonderful time of the year, celebrating everything and anything of a yuletide nature.
Lines of huts, chalets, stands and displays offer all manner of festive treats, from handcrafted Christmas decorations not found anywhere else in the world to iconic and heart-warming Christmas sweets, produce and hot drinks. From each stall, Christmas songs and carols fill the air and the sweet smell of gingerbread, mulled wine and warm spices waft through the streets, over lit up trees and enchanted children. The Christmas market is a true indicator that the day itself is not far off, that it is time to get excited and that Christmas has lost none of its magic in the digital age.
Across the world, this Christmas phenomenon has brought joy to people of all ages. Germany is the undisputed champion of the Christmas market, having hosted them for hundreds of years, dating back to the 14th century. Little has changed there in more recent centuries, and today, Germany plays host to some of the largest markets in the world. The magnificent Dresden Striezelmarkt is possibly the most impressive of them all, and thought to be the first Christmas market ever. Featuring a splendid golden gate at its front, each of the small chalets sells all manner of festive German goods, from the wonderfully heartening glühwein, a kind of German mulled wine, or the delectable Christmas Stollen, a cake synonymous with the German festive season. The highlight of this spectacular tradition is in fact the baking and parade of an enormous stollen in the market, at the end of which, the cake is cut up and doled out to eager, wrapped up Christmas shoppers.
In another charming German city, Cologne, the German Christmas market celebrates not only Christmas, but also German culture and tradition. Scattered in the shadow of the imperious twin-spired cathedral, the Cologne Christmas market is a colourful, ebullient affair, made up of thousands of sights, sounds and flavours.
To the west, on the British Isles, the Christmas market is just as popular. Across Great Britain, the hearty Christmas feeling becomes evident in towns across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland as city centres explode into a whirlwind of lights, smells and tastes thanks to the well-stocked and well-attended British Christmas markets. One of the finest offerings comes in the north of England in the ancient city of York. Under the illustrious gaze of the glorious York Minster, this rousing Christmas market takes the shape of a long line of huts and chalets, each offering uniquely British Christmas fare. At its head sits an enormous Viking tent, complete with hearth and beer, reminiscent of the days of York as a Viking city. Hot soup, hog roasts, spiced ciders and wine, beer tents and live music make the York Christmas Market an event to treasure, truly bringing out the famed British festive spirit.
In the south of the country, the old Roman spa town of Bath provides one of the largest Christmas markets in the United Kingdom, with over 170 stalls all offering British decoration, gifts, food and drink for thousands of eager customers.
Up in the far north, Edinburgh brings Christmas to Scotland in the shape of its own Christmas market. Notable for the wonderful light shows that illuminate the mound area of the city, Edinburgh's Christmas market is a superb place to jump into Christmas. Indicative perhaps of the multicultural atmosphere of the city, Edinburgh's market offers treats from around the world.
Around the globe, Christmas Markets have left their mark. Over the Atlantic in the USA, the Christkindlmarket in Chicago is a festive extravaganza of immense proportion, presided over by an enormous Christmas tree. Based on traditional German markets, especially the Christkindlmarkt in Nuremberg, this market sees the Chicago loop become filled up with classic wooded huts, with roofs of red and white canvas, all selling Christmas produce with a uniquely American touch, from hot dogs to candy canes, candyfloss to hot chocolate. Scandinavia also has a strong tradition for Christmas markets, with superb displays in Denmark in the Tivoli Gardens, Sweden's Stortorgets Julmarknad and the Røros Christmas Market in Norway.
From the beginning of the celebrations at the beginning of December to the day itself, there are few better ways to step into Christmas than by exploring a Christmas market.