Our story begins in the late Middle Ages, in parts of the former Holy Roman Empire. The forefather to Christmas markets is thought to be Vienna’s Dezembermarkt, December Market, dating back to around 1296. The Emperor granted shopkeepers the right to hold a market for a day or two, in early winter, so that townspeople could stock up on supplies to last through the cold months. Winter markets began to spring up all over Europe. Over time, local families started setting up stalls to sell baskets, toys, and woodcarvings alongside others selling almonds, roasted chestnuts, and gingerbread. These items were often bought as gifts to give away at Christmas time. It was the winter markets that eventually became known as Christmas Markets—the earliest of which are claimed to be in Germany, Munich, around 1310.
Today, leading up to Christmas, most towns of moderate sizes across the German-speaking world have a Christmas market. Several cities in the UK, US, and Canada also hold Christmas markets, where visitors can enjoy traditional foods like Zwetschgenmännle (figures made of decorated dried plums), Nussknacker (carved Nutcrackers), Gebrannte Mandeln (candied, toasted almonds), and freshly-grilled Bratwurst. Favorite beverages include Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and Eierpunsch (an egg-based warm alcoholic drink).