There is something magical about Christmas. No matter if one prefers summer or winter, hot or cold, everyone loves this particular time of the year. The lights, the Christmas trees, the presents, the songs, the ginger biscuits, the smell of hot chocolate or mulled wine, the decorations, the comfort of home, and the sacred time spent with your loved ones. Christmas is the biggest Christian holiday, but nowadays, it is recognised also as a cultural holiday. Once December rolls in, the Christmas spirit is everywhere.
For the past couple of years, I have created a tradition to visit Christmas markets around Europe. Last year, I visited Advent in Zagreb with my boyfriend. This year, together with him, my sister and her husband, we decided to visit not one, but three cities that become magical in December - Basel, Colmar and Strasbourg. The planning for our trip started at the end of September (basically once the summer was over). Combining two countries and three cities in just a few days was challenging, especially with our return flight being moved 15 hours earlier than initially planned. However, it was totally worth it. Visiting Christmas markets (and the whole planning before that) is the quickest way to get into the Christmas mood.
The Beauty of the Christmas Decor
You know how the Christmas decorations at home completely change the vibe of the place, right? You put some garlands, Christmas lights and a Christmas tree, some candles, and your home is on another level of cosiness. Christmas markets and outdoor decorations have exactly the same effect on the cities. I could walk around Colmar for hours, although it was -5℃, just because the decorations were everywhere and it was so beautiful to look at. Every house, shop and restaurant, tree on the street, the cathedral, it was all shining. Add to this the small wooden houses for the market, and you have a complete Christmas picture. Not to mention the 3D mapping on some buildings.
It’s a bonus from nature if you also have snow. I can say I truly experienced the Christmas excitement during our trip once we got out of the train station in Strasbourg, and it was snowing outside. Nowadays, as the winters are becoming warmer in Bulgaria, that snow brought back memories from my childhood. The snow is really the cherry on top you could only wish for while you are visiting Christmas markets.
Perfect Place to Buy Presents, Souvenirs and Decorations
Another thing I like about the Christmas markets is their authenticity. You can find many local or hand-made products there that you can buy for your family and friends. These will bring them the holiday spirit and are perfect for a symbolic gift. What better way to show them they are in your thoughts even when you are travelling, and what a better time to do it than Christmas?
You can also choose souvenirs for yourself to remind you of the great memories of the trip. For example, we buy for ourselves Christmas toys from the Christmas markets we visit every year (besides the magnets, which are a must, until there is still free space on the fridge). We choose an ornament that has a story behind it and is related to the place. Last year, we bought a nutcracker from Zagreb and this year we bought a pretzel from Strasbourg. Now, every Christmas afterwards we are going to put the toys on the Christmas tree and remember the places we’ve been together.
Local Delicious Food and Traditions
What is your first thought when you think of a German Christmas market? I bet it is Würstel. That would be mine too. Then, if you think of Switzerland and food, you could almost smell the fondue. In the Alsace region (around Colmar and Strasbourg) the most popular dish is rösti. The beauty of travelling is to do what locals do - to try the food, to experience the culture.
Even the famous Glühwein and Kinderpunsch, offered at most Christmas markets in West Europe, are prepared with different spices depending on the region. In addition, many Christmas markets include singing, dancing, exhibitions, scenes and festive performances that will show you the local way of celebrating. Check the website of the city (or the page created and dedicated to the market specifically) to see what events are included in the programme.
Christmas markets are probably the best place you can be in the middle of December. You now have a couple of reasons to try it yourself next year. But after that festive trip, it’s time to put all duties aside, be with the family, watch Home Alone for the fiftieth time and do puzzles or play board games together. I hope you will do the same. No doubt “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” and the best way to appreciate it is by taking the time for yourself and your closest ones. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate and a Happy New Year!