Naughty or Nice? It Means a Lot in Europe’s Colorful Christmas Markets

Snow globes in Salzburg Snow globes help to make the season bright--Photo by Wallace Immen

Once upon a time, before the scourge of Black Friday, the Christmas shopping season didn’t start before December and Santa Claus wasn’t a shill for a soft drink company.

Remarkably, it’s still like that in central Europe, to the wonder and amazement of my fellow North Americans aboard a Viking River Cruises Christmas Markets voyage.

The Christmas markets that have been a December tradition since the Middle Ages are still about the charming notion of folks getting out into the fresh air, gathering together and having a good time, rather than how much they’ve still got left on their debit cards. In fact, many of the merchants still cling to that tradition of only dealing in cash.

Devil at Christmas market in Budapest

The Devil made me do it–Photo by Wallace Immen

Have you been naughty or nice? Kids in Europe don’t just have to face up to jolly old Saint Nick, but also Old Nick characters in red long johns as they scope out presents they’d like to see under the Tannenbaum.

The market scenes  in the town squares across Germany, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia  are a whole lot less predictable than the tinsel and trees that get hauled out before Halloween in malls in North America.

Dolls in Austria market

Christmas is fun for kids. Dolls in Salzburg market–Photo by Wallace Immen

The offerings from wooden shacks that open around noon daily are all about fun fashions and  eye-catching home decorations and handicrafts–even though many of them these days have been made in China. And there are aisles of fresh, traditional foods like gingerbread, chimney cakes, roast pig and Glühwein. Often in the center of a town square there’s a kiosk with beer and music.

Potato chip stnd in Bratislava

The original potato chips–Photo by Wallace Immen

As day turns into night,  the beer pavilions do a bigger business and the crowds swell as the scene is illuminated by thousands of Christmas lights.

It’s a whole lot of fun and December has become a season for specially themed Christmas markets river cruises. I did mine aboard the Viking River Cruises ship Viking Alsvin along the famed Danube from Budapest to Passau. Ard I found that the market activities are options to the usual full slate of port explorations, so even Scrooge needn’t be worried about being overwhelmed by the spirit of the season.

Here’s a look at the colorful sights and tastes of the Christmas markets season:

Puppets 3

Model houses in Salzburg

Tinsel town in the Salzburg market–Photo by Wallace Immen

Hearts decorations in European market

Fragrant hearts decorated with dried fruits–Photo by Wallace Immen

Sheep in Christmas creche in Europe

Lying in a manger–Photo by Wallace Immen

Chimney cakes in European market

Chimney cakes: They look better than they taste–Photo by Wallace Immen


Christmas figures in Austria

Trolls at Christmas–Photo by Wallace Immen

I wish you all “Ein frohes Weihnachtsfest und alles Gute zum neuen Jahr!” After a couple of beers, it will translate itself: Have yourself a merry Christmas and all the best for the new year!

About Wallace Immen

Wallace Immen is Executive Editor of The Cruisington Times, the Best in Cruising, Travel, Food and Fun. He's sailed on all of the world's seas to ports in over 100 countries and travelled on every continent. Contact: Website | Twitter | More Posts

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