Christmas Markets in Luther Country

Erfurt Christmas Market

In Germany’s Luther Country, Advent means Christmas markets. The crisp winter air is filled with the smell of ginger and nutmeg, signaling the arrival of Stollen, a special Christmas cake, and Glühwein, mulled wine. Cobbled streets and squares, lined with half-timbered medieval houses, provide the backdrop for dozens of wooden stalls, selling wooden toys and Christmas decorations, handcrafted gifts and seasonal foods, such as Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars) and Lebkuchen (soft, spiced cookies).

Brass bands play and choirs sing carols, often written by Martin Luther himself. In fact, many Christmas traditions were supposedly instigated by the Protestant reformer 500 years ago. Legend insists one dark and starry night, Luther was touched by the beauty of the pine trees. On returning home, he cut down a tree, took it into his house and decorated it with candles. As well as the Christmas tree, Luther is credited with the idea of Christkind, the Christ child bringing presents. (Kris Kringle is still familiar in many U.S. homes). Concerned that Saint Nicholas, who delvered his gifts on December 6, was too popular, Luther came up with an alternative to “Santa Claus”: a golden angel, with wings and a crown.

Here are just some of Luther Country’s most authentic Christmas markets.

(clockwise) Christmas Stollen; Lebkuchen; Zimtsterne

November 27 – December 22
Although Erfurt’s 162nd Christmas Market spreads throughout the old town, the focus is on the Domplatz, the vast Cathedral Square. The 200 market booths sell everything from Thuringian bratwurst (Germany’s favorite grilled sausage) and Christmas cookies to handmade toys or traditional, handmade Christmas decorations. Children love the giant Ferris wheel,

Erfurt Christmas Market

the 90-foot-tall Christmas tree covered in candles, and the 40-foot-high wooden pyramid. Most of all, they love the nativity scene, set in a fairytale forest, complete with near life-sized, hand-carved figures. Gardeners should not miss the floral Christmas exhibition in the underground vaults of the cathedral.

Lutherstadt Wittenburg Christmas Market

November 28 – December 23
In the market square, a statue of Luther looks out across the Christmas market, with its stalls decorated with pine boughs, lights and Christmas ornaments. In the air is the scent of mulled wine and roasted almonds. Across the square is the Marienskirche (St. Mary’s Church), where Luther preached. Special are the town’s Adventshöfe, medieval courtyards, where local artists and craftsmen sell their wares. In the Cranach Courtyard, named for Luther’s great friend and painter Lucas Cranach, the weekend of December 8 and 9 features weavers and knitters, wood carvers and basket makers.

November 30 – December 23
With more than 1,300 half-timbered houses, Quedlinburg is one of Europe’s most romantic cities. And during the Christmas Market, strolling along the cobbled streets is like walking through history. One unique event is the “Advent in den Höfen” (December 1-2, 8-9, 15-16), when some 20 private courtyards open to sell special Christmas gifts, often handmade. Another highlight is the world’s largest Advent calendar! At 4:30 p.m. every afternoon for 24 days, children look out for the star that marks the house where the next scene in the Advent calendar will appear. When the door opens, fairytale characters appear and dance, sing or play for spectators.

Quedlinburg Christmas Market

November 30 – December 22
Dominated by its 12th-century castle, Wernigerode’s annual Christmas market has a fairy story backdrop: a 15th-century town hall, half-timbered houses and a 35-foot-tall Christmas tree. The stalls serve traditional food and drink, hand-made toys and ornaments for the home; evenings are filled with concerts of seasonal music. From December 15 to January 8, 2013, the Castle hosts its own special Winter Market. Children meet a fairy at 3 p.m. and receive presents from St. Nikolaus (Santa Claus) at 4 p.m. They also love to ride the Christmas train in a historic carriage, pulled by a steam engine through the snow-covered countryside.

Wernigerode Christmas Market

December 1-2 and 8-9
Each Christmas, this small town in a steep, wooded valley in the Thuringian Forest, plays a vital role in every American home. This is where the first glass Christmas tree ornaments were created in 1847. In 1880, F. W. Woolworth, the five-and-dime store pioneer, brought a batch of these glass balls to his store in Pennsylvania, and the rest is history. The tradition continues in Germany’s glassblowing capital, where you can watch artisans creating works of art at Lauscha’s Museum of Glass Art. At Lauscha’s annual Christmas “Kugelmarkt,” or glass bauble market, you can buy these handmade decorations in all shapes and colors.

Mead honey wine

December 1-2, 8-9, 15-16
Wartburg Castle is where Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, changed history when he translated the New Testament into German. And this UNESCO World Heritage Site just outside Eisenach is still a massively impressive fortress. At Christmas, however, a historic Christmas Market transforms the castle, with artists and street performers, craftsmen and knights. Meet candle makers and barrel makers, rope makers and lantern makers, minstrels and puppeteers. With cheerful booths and medieval decorations, this is a like a trip back in time. And the medieval food is delicious, from roast apples and honey to mead.

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