It is the presently the middle of November. Although Christmas is still some 5-6 weeks away, in the next couple of weeks, some of our major towns and cities will open their annual Christmas Markets. They seem to have come from nowhere around ten years ago and most have a distinct continental theme. We generally call these “German Christmas Markets” even though they appear in France, Denmark, Norway, Poland and the Czech Republic amongst others. However, they do have their origins in Germany. Most of us took to this new wave of continental festivity immediately. Why are they so popular?
They’ve been running for around ten years now, but what first attracted people to these markets is the British love of the exotic. To see small wooden shacks in the middle of a concrete jungle selling food, drink and produce we can’t get all the year round is a real draw. The chance of finding a unique gift for Christmas is a major selling point for what attracts people to these markets. Simple curiosity draws the new visitor and people are now willing to travel a long way to visit a favourite Christmas market. Birmingham’s annual market is a case in point.
Many have attacked the rampant commercialism of Christmas, and it’s not just religious communities saying that we have become too materialistic in how we approach the season. Many people feel they have lost sight of the spirit of Christmas in the mad rush of Black Friday and thoughtless, endless spending. These markets, perhaps, take us back to a childhood of the Christmases we feel we may have lost. Wooden huts adorned with pretty lights, the smell of warm gluhwein and roasting chestnuts is one element. Bratwurst and good beer may be one for the adults to enjoy.
They are Comprised of Small Businesses
There has been a real movement since the economic downturn of 2008 for people to support small traders. Start-ups, and in particular the new wave of microbreweries and British wines, means that many people are shunning traditional high street stores all selling the same thing. Small businesses present something unique in that they operate, produce, and sell, locally. This has allowed regions to focus on what they do best and compete against the big businesses on an equal footing in a way they cannot the rest of the year. Add in continental traders bringing authentic goods and produce, and you are able to buy all of your Christmas food and gifts from local traders.
Even when busy, these markets provide a respite from the endless shopping. There is something quite relaxing about wandering through the rows of huts, browsing the unique produce they offer. The chance to sit in the open air, sipping mulled wine and talking to friends and strangers alike provides a sense of community that some feel we are losing in this increasing digital world. There is a real communal atmosphere when visiting with friends that you don’t get in the average shopping centre. That atmosphere simply does not exist in many other places.
We’ve Always Loved German Christmas Traditions
The United Kingdom has strong ties with Germany and always has done. English is a Germanic language and successive waves of German invasions in medieval Europe means our culture is tied to theirs. Most of “our” Christmas traditions come from Germany – the tree, its decorations (although Germans prefer candles to tinsel), mulled wine, gingerbread and even gift giving. For several hundred years between Cromwell’s Commonwealth and the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert, British people simply did not care all that much about Christmas. Prince Albert’s love of Christmas reignited our own and he brought over most of these traditions to our shores.