Last weekend, I, alone with an acquaintance, visited Trier, Germany. This blog is about this brief Saturday afternoon frolick throught Trier’s Christmas Market.
It’s December, and I find myself in Germany, a country known for the most commonly understood stereotypical scenes of Christmas misery and bliss. Christmas isn’t my favorite holiday, but to be honest, I don’t find any holiday particularly satisfying, especially as an adult. While I can admit that the idea of “the Christmas spirit” isn’t just a fanciful fairy tale, I tend to believe that Christmas can be summarized as a short but highly anticipated day that doesn’t always live up to expectations. Perhaps this can be said about many things in life; as we are all prepertually preparing for an event that is hopelessly riddled with imperfections.
As somone who seem a bit negative about Christmas, you might ask why would I visit a Christmas Market. As an adult whose ideals are slowly shifting, I find myself saying yes to experiences, even if it’s for the sake of this blog or getting to know people whose experiences are a world away from mine. While most things might seem frightfully out of place for me, sometimes saying yes and going with the flow is always best.
Trier is located in southwest Germany in the Moselle wine region near the Luxembourg border. According to one of my good German pals, this city is the oldest city in Germany and was established by the Romans. Unlike Cologne, many of the Roman structures are very well-preserved and visible to visitors. One of the most famous structures is the Porta Nigra gate which means black gate in Latin. It is also the largest well-preserved Roman gate in this region.
Many of the ancient structures in Trier are designated as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I am saying all of this to illustrate how old this city is compared to other settlements in Germany. Trier also has many Catholic churches designated as protected sites. The Cathedral of Saint Peter called Trier Dom was established in the 4th century, making it the oldest church in Germany. Trier also has an Electoral Palace with well-kept gardens, and the house of Karl Marx is also a popular place to visit, along with the Roman Imperial Baths.
If there was a competition for cities with the oldest structures, Tier would rank high as they also have the oldest bridge in Germany called Römerbrücke or the Roman Bridge. This fact is why Trier should be on everyone’s must-do list if visiting Germany or Luxembourg for an extended amount of time.
History of German Christmas Markets
Germany is world-famous for its Christmas Markets that go back to the 15th and 16th centuries. It’s said that it has over 3,000 Christmas Markets all happening at once in many city squares throughout the Christmas season. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has hampered this tradition as some cities have paused the Christmas bazaars for fear of spreading the virus. While other towns enforce heavy restrictions with limited hours of operation. Indeed Christmas Markets are truly a cultural tradition evolving through the many changes that German society has undergone.
The earliest Christmas Markets grew out of the need for communities to have a communal gathering place during religious feast days. Since most churches were centrally located, finding these markets near churches and city centers was very common. During the winter, these markets drew larger crowds to the local artisans sell their best products.
One sad part about the history of Christmas Markets in Germany was the introduction of major department stores. At the end of the 19th century, many Christmas Markets were forced out of the city centers to increase traffic to more fashionable stores. For decades artisans who sold goods at Christmas Markets languished on the outskirts of towns, being side barred by the convenience of modern department stores. By the 1930s, Christmas Markets returned to cities centers due to the Nazi Party. The idea of pushing German traditions and creating a more anti-capitalism mindset amongst the masses reinvigorated this tradition. The Christmas Markets added to the concept of nationalism, and it was around this time that the popularity of Advent calendars grew. One can be sure that while some things has changed over the decades, Christmas Markets has evolved into an authentic German tradition and experience. It feels like something all Germans should be proud of no matter what historical influence inspires the rise of this wonderful tradition.
German Christmas Market Fact 1: “Dresden Christmas Markets was first open for 1 day on Christmas Eve in 1434.”
After WWII, Christmas Markets became very popular, but it wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that this tradition was exported to other countries. From November to about January, you will find many cities in Canada, the United States, Japan, the UK, India, and other parts of Europe adapting this German tradition. One of the most exciting parts of this cultural exchange is the fact that many of these places also maintain elements of this tradition by including bratwurst, glühwein, and twinkling lights.
Readers will be pleased to know that over the last 50 years or so, visitors to Christmas Markets in Germany have more than tripled along with the number of markets to support those growing numbers.
Exploring Trier Christmas Market
While I still maintain the idea that Christmas is a stressfully tacky event, seeing Trier Christmas Market for myself was like taking that first breath of fresh air after a 20-hour non-stop flight dawning a medical-grade mask.
I actually had fun, and even with it being cold outside, I couldn’t feel the elements because I was actively engaged in all the overstimulation of my senses by the market.
German Christmas Market Fact 2: “Protestant reformist Martin Luther was credited with being the first to put lights on a Christmas tree.”
Trier’s Hauptmarkt seems to be the perfect setting for this event as stores, and market stalls seem to sit in perfect harmony with each other. Stalls were selling handmade Christmas tree oriments, sugary candy, pastries, bread, cheeses, meats, clothing, warm alcoholic beverages, and the list goes on.
Furthermore, this place successfully endorsed this “so-called” mood of Christmas with its hot cocoa and hot wines.
Cast against the backdrop of Trier Dom, Porta Nigra, and other Roman monuments, it seems fitting to let the old and new ghosts of Christmas to enter these festive spaces.
Over 80 plus wooden stalls and a large number of visitors all ready to rip their masks off to indulge in roasted almonds, fruit cakes, Gluehweinkönigin, and potato fritters, all while trying to create memories for themselves and children.
I can attest to the fact the decorated stores, festive lights, and the merriment found around each street corner in Trier seemed to hitch a ride back to my apartment with me. Creating a memorable experience making my visit to Trier’s Christmas Market unique and special.
For more information about Trier Christmas Market click here!