The History of Europe’s Christmas Markets

If you are planning a European river cruise vacation this winter, you are most likely going to encounter some of the continent’s most historic and breathtakingly ornate Christmas markets. From simulated nativity scenes, to numerous nutcrackers, to mulled wine, you are bound to find just about any Christmas-related or themed item you’ll ever need in many of these illustrious marketplaces. As many of these seasonal displays have become commonplace in numerous European regions nowadays, they also have a very rich tradition in history. The following will take a look back at the renowned history of Europe’s infamous Christmas markets.

The first known origins of a Christmas-themed market dates all the way back to the year 1294, though then it was simply referred to as a “December Market.” It all started when Emperor Albrecht I granted the traders and shopkeepers of Vienna the privilege to hold a market for the city’s population at the end of each calendar year. Five-hundred years later, it was moved to around Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Besides the standard goods such as textiles and groceries, these markets also sold delicious gingerbreads and pastries – delicacies that have managed to retain their immense popularity throughout the centuries.

In addition to the early “December Markets” in Vienna, Germany also has a rich history of Christmastime markets, dating back to the early 1300’s. With many German regions holding regular seasonal markets throughout the year, Christmas markets became a quite welcome occurrence during the incredibly frigid winter months. In contrast to today’s markets, where designated squares are utilized by these seasonal stands, many of the original markets consisted of traders who would simply lay their goods out on the streets.

Through the rise of European tourism nowadays, many of these European Christmas markets have become infamous tourist attractions for visitors; some smaller cities – such as Augsburg and Stuttgart – don’t have much of a year-round draw for tourism, so much of these towns’ vacationer revenues are supplied through their extensive Christmastime markets. Many of these markets are still host to the world’s finest collections of nutcrackers, wooden figurines, cookie tins, glass balls, toys and handmade tree ornaments.

As you can see, Christmas Markets have become one of the most uniquely eclectic European traditions still in existence today. Whether you’re looking for an authentic nutcracker, a freshly baked gingerbread man, or even if you’re just looking to soak-in the tradition of the marketplace, you’re sure to find a little bit of everything at one of Europe’s infamous Christmas markets. Make sure to schedule a visit during your next European river cruise vacation!

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AmaWaterways operates the finest fleet and provides all-inclusive river cruise vacations on the great waterways of Europe, Russia, Vietnam, and Cambodia. With a rapidly-growing fleet of custom-designed ships, the line enjoys a reputation as the leader in river cruising. With more than 20 different itineraries to choose from, the river cruise vacation of a lifetime awaits with AmaWaterways!