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.
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.
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.
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:
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!