Christmas in the Cold
In true German fashion, I haven’t seen the sun for weeks. It’s currently raining, and if I didn’t have a clock, I would assume that it was nearing night and not the middle of the day. Welcome to winter in Germany. It’s good Christmas weather though. Unlike the constant 80 degrees I grew up with in California, at least here when you get a sweater for Christmas you can wear it without sweating. Even when it’s not raining here, it’s still cold, colder than Colorado or even Ohio. The cold here is damp and sinks into your skin. The wind whips through the empty trees, smacks you on the back of your neck, and finds every microscopic hole in your pants.
I think the Christmas markets started as a way for people to keep warm in the winter. The combination of Glühwein and bodies comfortably oozing from stand to stand is the only way we can stay warm outside.
What is a Weihnachtsmarkt?
The German Christmas Market, or Weihnachtsmarkt, begins the last weekend in November and lasts until Christmas Eve. While some markets attract thousands of tourists each year for their unique Christmas traditions (looking at you, Aachen), most markets typically have the same elements: stands hawking food, selling handmade goods, Ferris wheels, and the occasional puppet play or choir. The big draw to the Weihnachtsmarkt is the food: Glühwein, Eierpunsch, Bratwurst, Currywurst, Crepes, and Lebkuchen. Winter staples like hot cocoa and Germany’s other water, beer, are also available.
In Bielefeld, the city center is littered with food stands and seating areas all for the Christmas market. Keep walking and they continue, meandering down the alleys and main streets, meeting again in large huddles in the Altstadt and in the church square. While during the day the Weihnachtsmarkt is sparsely populated, at night it flourishes. Lights twinkling and glasses clinking, lines for crepes and Currywurst get crisscrossed and tables are so crowded it’s not unusual to share the top of a trashcan with a group of strangers.
Josh and I experienced this in Bonn, when we visited their Weihnachtsmarkt on a cold Friday night. Bundled in jackets, beanies, scarves and mittens, about five minutes in, my mittens were off and I was sweating through my jacket. We tried some Glühwein, hot mulled wine that reminded us of spiced cider. Like all beverages at these events, it came in a ceramic cup, not a paper one (I have rarely, if ever, been given a paper cup). The drink was €3, and then you pay a €2 pfand, or a deposit for the cup. If you bring the cup back, you get the deposit back.
A couple stands down a crowd of people stood eating Pommes mit Mayo and Bratwurst, the warm diner smell hitting my stomach at full force. Euros in hand, I ordered the Currywurst (I’m obsessed) and Pommes mit Mayo, because Josh wasn’t there to tell me otherwise, and boy was that a mistake. The Currywurst was great as usual. But I will never understand why Germans love mayonnaise on everything. Just straight-up plain mayo on fries. Don’t worry we washed it down with a waffle.
Mixed in with the food stands are local creators selling handmade goods from toys, Christmas decor, little villages, and handmade hats. It’s traditional, yet diverse and eclectic. While the toy stands might be fun for the kids, the big draw is the Riesenrad (Ferris wheel), which in my experience, is the centerpiece of the Weihnachtsmarkt. For kids the Weihnachtsmarkt is a mini-carnival, with goofy Christmas-themed rides scattered throughout the city. Bumper cars, swings, and carousels are popular with families.
Christmas with Community
It’s rare to find these types of Christmas markets in the US. Sure, there are craft fairs and makers markets. But the difficult thing is to find something specifically for Christmas without the flashing lights and inflatable kitsch that makes the States so great. Oddly enough, when we lived in Colorado, we went to Denver’s German Christmas market. It’s pretty accurate. The biggest difference between Christmas in the US and Christmas in Germany is the intention behind it. Here, there is less advertising, less pressure, less stuff. It’s about family and Advent, and togetherness.
It’s raining tonight, the winds are strong, and the temperature is low. But the crowds in the city center are thick, the Glühwein is steaming, and conversation is flowing. Grab a crepe and settle in among the crowd. Germany gets a reputation of having cold people, but that’s just the weather. The people here are warm. They are friendly. The wine helps. Like everyone else, Germans crave community and togetherness. What better way to promote that than with a Weihnachtsmarkt.
What does your community do to celebrate the holidays? Have you been to a Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany or another country? Let me know about it by leaving a comment 👇
See more photos of Weihnachtsmarkt on Instagram.