Christmas is celebrated by Christians in many different ways across the world, and even in many places by non-Christian folk. Most celebrations involve traditions like gift giving, carol singing, religious services and sharing special meals. I enjoy that time of the year because of the positive spirit around and naturally because of the seemingly endless supply of delicious food. While the joy shared in the festive season seems to be global, regardless of religious persuasion, I have always found Europe to be the most obviously (and joyously!) geared for celebrations. Over the last few years we have been taking one or two short breaks to European cities every December to experience how different parts of Europe transform during this time. Despite the great variety of traditions, you will find most European cities elaborately decorated and lit up, bustling with activity and heaving with food. This year we decided to explore several new cities and did this by going on a Viking River Christmas Market Cruise.
Sausages and sweet treats in Budapest
The cruise started at Budapest. Known for its hot springs, public bath houses and love for paprika, Budapest also has several large and well known Christmas markets, the biggest being in Vörösmarty Square. We fought the cold by feasting on traditional goulash and sausages and finished our meal off with some chimney cake – a traditional cake made over hot coals and liberally dusted with cinnamon or sprinkled with nuts.
Despite the Rathaus market in Vienna being the busiest market we encountered, it was an incredible experience. Located in the heart of Austria, Vienna is the most elaborately decorated European city during this time. The market featured an astounding display of Christmas trimmings – even the trees were dazzlingly decorated. I found several unique handmade items, including an intricately blown glass paperweight.
PS: The apple doughnuts in Vienna are to die for…
The highly rated Passau market in Germany made up in variety for what it lacked in size. This quaint marketplace not only offered traditional crafts and mouth-watering foodstuffs; it also offered live music, traditional dancing and games. While exploring this splendid little market we enjoyed keeping the chill at bay with glühwein. This wonderful beverage was deliciously spicy and also helped build up enough Dutch courage for me to take an impromptu traditional dancing class. All I needed was some lederhosen to complete the picture!
Famously traditional Nuremberg
Another particularly notable Christmas market in Germany was Nuremberg. This is where we enjoyed yet more delicious glühwein and also tried Lebkuchen – a traditional gingerbread available in every conceivable shape and size. The prevalent aroma of typically German dishes and desserts is not the only reason for this special market’s popularity. Over 2,000,000 visitors arrive every year to experience what this market offers: 100% traditional products. It is forbidden to sell anything modern at Nuremberg market. As we sipped our time-honoured drinks and ambled along cobbled streets, we were once again transfixed with the special kind of magic only Europe can offer during Christmas time.
Perhaps next year I will find out if the African sun in the festive season holds as much charm as a white Christmas…