Christmas markets, with their open-air stalls selling gifts, treats, and hot beverages, are a popular annual tradition in cities around the world. However, the origins of these markets are not as ancient as they may seem.
Christmas Markets Originated in Germany
The tradition dates back to the 14-day fairs held in Vienna in December 1296. These fairs were not specifically tied to Christmas and did not appear to be religious in nature. Another early example of an Advent market, but not necessarily a Christmas-themed one, can be found in Bautzen, Germany. In 1384, the city was given the right to hold a free market, allowing butchers to sell meat until Christmas.
Scholars are often hesitant to definitively identify the first official Christmas market, though some continually operating annual markets have been in existence for centuries. For example, the Dresden Striezelmarkt, which began in 1434, and the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, which started no later than 1628.
Christmas Markets Spread Through Europe
Christmas markets may have primarily German origins, but they eventually spread to other German-speaking regions such as Italy, Switzerland, and France. This aligns with the general origin of Christmas practices, which also have roots in Germany. The tradition of decorating a tree to celebrate the holiday is believed to have originated in Germany in the 16th century, with the first written record appearing in a 1527 document from Mainz. Prior to this, gift-giving was more closely associated with Saint Nicholas’ Day on December 6. Christmas, on the other hand, was at the end of Advent, a period of reflection, and the start of 12 days of celebration.
During the 17th and early 18th centuries, Christmas markets gained popularity across Europe and served as a gathering place for people of all social classes and a venue for buying meat, baked goods, and other commodities. In the 19th century, Christmas markets began to be more heavily associated with holiday traditions and the commercialization of Christmas.
Christmas Markets Are Universally Beloved
Christmas markets were directly impacted by the passage of time and changing tastes, and as they became more popular, there became a need for increased regulation. In 1869, it was stated that the Christmas market could only run from December 5 to January 1. Only genuine Christmas items could be sold, like children’s toys, gingerbread, confectionery, and Christmas trees.
The development of the Christmas market as we know it today, with its focus on nostalgia and holiday harmony, can be traced back to the start of a period of culture and consumption. The commercialized Christmas market is a modern creation with roots dating back to the 19th century. While the tradition may be rooted in mercantile functions, Christmas markets continue to evoke feelings of nostalgia and holiday cheer for many people around the world. Such markets attract millions of visitors each year and are a popular holiday tradition for both locals and tourists.