The Nuremberg Christmas Market: A Christmas Extravaganza
Most of our beloved Christmas traditions—the Christmas tree, gingerbread, mistletoe—are German in origin. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Germany celebrates Christmas bigger and better than almost anyone. But even among German, nothing can rival the splendor and tradition of the Nuremberg Christmas Market. From the twinkling glass ornament display to the Christmas angel, everything about the Christmas Market is a mix of old and new, opulent and humble, religious and secular.
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If you’ve ever bought a glass ornament from the Christmas Market in Dailey Plaza, Chicago, then you have already experienced a taste of the Nuremberg Market (the Chicago one is copied from the Nuremberg version). But in Germany, the celebration is no homage-it’s the real thing. Every year over 2 million visitors pour into Nuremberg’s Christmas square to buy cider from the wooden stalls, a cake from the vendors, or a hand blown glass ornament from the artisans.
Nuremberg’s Christmas Market is Germany’s oldest fair, dating back to at least 1628 the first time any mention of the Market appeared in writing). Before that, a pre-Christmas fair used to be held in the same spot at least 100 years previously. Back in the 17th century, the Christmas Market didn’t sell the delicate glass ornament collections you see today, but focused on baked goods and lovingly hand-crafted wood items like painted boxes. By the 18th century, nearly all of Nuremberg’s craftsmen were represented in the market, which is when the rise of the famous glass ornament—which would later sweep Britain and America—were first sold. While the 19th century saw a decline of the popularity of the Christmas Market, it resumed it’s popularity after the first and second World Wars (during WWII, there was no Christmas Market in Nuremberg).
Germany’s most famous Christmas Market has a religious tone that many such markets do not, a throw back to the medieval origins of the festival. Before the first Advent Sunday, a woman dressed as the Christmas Angel opens the market by reciting a very solemn speech from inside the Church of Our Lady. Once the prologue has been given, the festivities begin. People come pouring through the makeshift streets of wooden stalls with red-and-white striped roofs that look like candy-cane glass ornament displays twinkling in the sun. Nuremberg’s special gingerbread, fruitcake, cookies, crèches, and glass ornament wares are all available for sale. One of the souvenirs unique to Nuremberg are the “Nuremberg Plum People,” which are little figurines made out of plums, then dried.
To keep the festival looking as it has for the last hundred years, the Christmas Market is highly regulated. That means a glass ornament instead of a plastic one, real evergreen garlands instead of artificial pine, and no pre-taped Christmas music on CD. There are awards for the most beautiful stalls, so shop keepers compete fiercely for the most tasteful and elegant displays, using a variety of glass ornament construction, holly, pine, and wood to make their mark. There is also a special Christmas Market that’s designed for Children. Instead of delicate glass ornament offerings, the stalls at the Children’s Market offer wooden toys, candy, and tasty treats for children of all ages.