UK Christmas markets: a German tradition

While Christmas markets are a mainstay of today’s UK festivities, their origins can be traced back to the late Middle Ages in German-speaking Europe.

Christmas markets might be a staple part of the UK holiday season, but their origins can be traced to mainland Europe. photo credit: sunside via photopin cc

Christmas markets might be a staple part of the UK holiday season, but their roots lie in mainland Europe. photo credit: sunside via photopin cc

Christmas Markets date back to the late Middle Ages, where they started appearing in the German-speaking part of Europe, as well as France and Switzerland. One of the first markets on record occurred as early as 1294, when the Vienna ‘December market’ was first held. The Christmas markets of Bautzen were first held in 1384, while Dresden’s Strietzelmarkt first took place in 1434.

Hundreds of years later, Christmas markets are still a large part of Austrian and German culture, with a Weihnachtsmarkt found in most German cities during the four weeks of advent. These brightly lit and bustling markets are often held in central town squares, with open-air stalls selling a wide variety of seasonal items and festive food and drink, along with traditional singing and dancing, nativity plays and magnificent Christmas lights and decorations.

But nowadays, you don’t need to go to Germany or Austria to experience everything a Christmas market has to offer. There are markets across the UK this time of year, and since most are inspired by the German model, there’s no lack of traditional fare, including ginger cookies, glühwein, bratwurst and roasted chestnuts.

Birmingham's 'Frankfurt' Christmas market is the largest outdoor Christmas market in the UK.

Birmingham’s ‘Frankfurt’ Christmas market is the largest outdoor Christmas market in the UK.

One of the first Christmas markets established in the UK was the Lincoln Christmas market, which started in 1982. It now boasts over 300 stalls, attracting more than 100 000 visitors over its four days.

The Frankfurt Christmas Markets are some of the best the country has to offer and were established with support from Frankfurt in the British Cities of Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds and Manchester, starting in 1997. Birmingham’s ‘Frankfurt’ is now the largest outdoor Christmas market in the country and claims to be the largest German-style Christmas market outside of the German-speaking world. Having run for the last 12 years, the market spans Victoria Street, New Street, Centenary Square and Chamberlain Square and attracts around 3 million visitors each year. It runs from November 14 to December 22.
Walnuts: A German tradition gone viral in the UK. photo credit: trombone65 via photopin cc

Walnuts: A German tradition gone viral in the UK. photo credit: trombone65 via photopin cc

Another favourite is the Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market in Hampshire. This market is largely recognised as one of the best in Europe – and certainly one of the UK’s prettiest. The market is held in the cathedral’s historic Inner Close, with exhibitors selling their goods from lovely wooden chalets surrounding an open-air ice rink. The Winchester Cathedral Market first appeared in 2006 and now welcomes more than 350 000 visitors a year.

London, too, offers a selection of vibrant and festive Christmas markets, including the Southbank Centre Christmas Market, which runs from mid-November to Christmas Eve.