Countdown to Christmas: a taste of Germany in the UK

By Anna Ley

For some, it’s the release of the long anticipated John Lewis advert that marks the beginning of the Christmas build up. For others, it’s the delight of the tiny chocolate behind a window marked 1st of December.  For fewer perhaps (the scrooges), it’s the arrival of Christmas Eve.  My festivities, however, begin with a visit to the 170 dazzling chalets at Bath Christmas Market.

The markets are a welcome tradition in Germany during the cold months. During the late middle ages, they would open in the winter for just a day or two to allow for townspeople to stock up on food and supplies to last them through those long winter months. These ‘Christkindlsmart’ soon became a meeting place and market for homemade festive goods, including tree ornaments and wooden figurines, and slowly evolved into the novelty gift selling stalls we know today.

Christmas lights guide you through the maze of wooden chalets, dusted with snow (only if you’re lucky… we never were in Bath), offering a variety of gifts from weird wooden ties to warm chocolate wine. Of course, this also includes the free tasters at the cheese/chocolate/chilli sauce stalls (take what you can get)!  Just wandering through the cobbled streets littered with tinsel topped stalls to the echoes of carol singers, cupping a mug of steaming mulled wine, absorbing the cosy atmosphere captures the very essence of Christmas. The variety of independent sellers makes it a great place to shop for your mum, your sister or your awkwardly hard-to-buy-for brother and, just when you get that little bit fed-up with the shopping extravaganza, you might even want to pick up something for yourself, too.  I think you’ll struggle not to!

Over the last 15 years, German Christmas markets have become increasingly popular in our major cities, with more and more unwrapping across the UK.  For example, Frankfurt’s annual market attracts 5 million visitors across its 180 chalets, whilst 9 million of us are enticed each year by a mere 300 stalls at St Anne’s Square, Manchester.  Christmas markets in the UK can be pretty spectacular; they do get really quite busy with their increasing popularity, but that just ensures you stay warm!

Where to find them…

Birmingham: the Frankfurt Christmas market in Victoria Square is the largest outside of Germany and Austria!
17 November – 29 December

Bath: Roman Baths and Abbey area
24 November – 11 December

Belfast: City Hall Gardens
19 November – 22 December

Cardiff: Traditional Market, Cardiff Centre
10 November – 23 December

Edinburgh: European Christmas Market, East Princes St
19 November – 7 January

Exeter: Cathedral Green
19 November – 18 December

Glasgow: St Enoch Square: 10 November – 22 December
OR George Square: 26 November – 29 December

Leeds: Millennium Square
11 November – 18 December

London: Southbank Christmas Market: 30 November – 3 January
OR Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park: November 18 – January 2

Manchester: St Ann’s Square
10 November – 20 December

Winchester: Cathedral Close
18 November – 20 December

Or, if you fancy something a bit different…

Brighton: local artists open their homes and workshops to sell artwork on 3 weekends over the period
26,27 November, 3,4 December, and 10,11 November

So go on… pull on your woolly gloves and hat and brave the brisk winter air for the festive fairs this year.  There’s nothing merrier in the build up to Christmas than an evening at the markets!

Photograph: Rachel Docherty via Flickr 

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