Every winter, Europe’s spectacular Christmas markets – some dating back to the 1700s – ignite a sense of wonderment for the countless visitors from around the world. For just a few precious weeks, visitors are transported back to the yesteryear of a bustling outdoor marketplace. Swathed in old-world Christmas ambiance, the romance of the season comes alive in grand tradition, creating an atmosphere that is truly spellbinding. Wrapped in the warm glow of Christmas lights, while carollers serenade with heartfelt hymns, visitors stroll past quaint wooden stalls housing master artisans, vendors selling charming handcrafted toys and hand-dipped candles, and an enticing array of local fare. Around every corner, the aromas of warm gingerbread, spicy mulled wine, and roasted sausages waft through the crisp air. Endless food stalls laden with unique local flavours, like elaborate pastries straight out of a medieval cookbook, local liquors such as schnapps, and cauldrons of rich hot chocolate, await to fill the belly and warm the soul.
While the marketplace alone provides a rich traditional experience, many of Europe’s old cities uphold deep-rooted customs with lyrical midnight masses in Gothic churches and practice a range of quirky traditions. Copenhagen is visited by mischievous pixies, Rome welcomes kindly witches, Salzburg is wary of troublesome demons, and Dresden celebrates with an 8,000-pound fruitcake! However Europeans celebrate the Yuletide season, the Advent market remains the centrepiece of Christmas in many countries, filling the squares in front of grand cathedrals each December. These traditions are wonderful displays of each region’s unique heritage come to life for all who wish to experience it and will surely remain an integral part of the European holiday season for many centuries to come.