Snowy villages dotted with alpine trees, punctuated with delicate aromas of cinnamon-laced delicacies, and bakeries. Savouries of artisanal cheese, fondue, and mulled wine with spices. Colourful marshmallows, candles, and homemade boutique soaps. European handicraft from the cottages and the tall Christmas trees adorned with wish cards, holly fruits, and Swarovski crystals. Such views of Christmas markets in Europe are nothing short of a spectacle reminiscent of the days from the fairy tales.
From revisiting local traditions of nativity scenes, the Advent, and the Epiphany in the village markets, these are typical festivities characterising celebrations, everywhere. In Switzerland, for instance, Montreux ‘Noel’ (Christmas Day); street markets in Basel overlooking the Rhine river; or dazzling trees in Zurich, artists showcase their talents, and engage with tourists and natives alike presenting a mix of modern methods garnished with traditions from across the world. Consider diverse Indian folk paintings at the Christmas markets. Or, wine paintings from France; roasted chestnuts in the smoky earthenware; spicy Gluhwein (traditional mulled red wine with spices, served hot), or drinking chocolate to traditional Swiss fondue – these small markets are integrated community spaces offering a place to everyone to co-exist and thrive.
Here’s looking at some of these colourful Christmas vibes from the quaint land of the Alps:
Sparkling and twinkling lights adorning living dwarf subalpine fir trees, the Colorado spruce, or the artificial ones – every tree shimmers with silver and glitter, lights, and candles. Add to these cookies, candied fruits, elves, miniature craft, and bells. Every corner houses a Christmas tree, mostly a living one decorated with tree lights. Zurich in Switzerland has the streets illuminated with the most decorated trees, with the most popular being at the train station (called HB), with thousands of Swarovski crystals. At some places, these Swarovski donned trees are as tall as 50 feet, glowing with colourful luminescence.
Another famous tree is housed at St. Gallen’s (opposite to the cathedral) in Switzerland, which is also one of the tallest Christmas trees sparkling with stars and crystals. Another popular concept is that of the ‘Wish Tree’ made of paper cards replete with greetings and wishes for loved ones. In addition to these green beauties, the entire ambiance thrives with village nativity scenes, the story of the three kings, and local folk tales.
At many places, this is the time to observe ‘White Christmas’ with hot savouries like the traditional ‘Gluhwein’ with piping hot fondue. Gluhwein compensates for the frost bites during this time of the year and is served in beautiful clay pots and mugs, which are Christmas souvenirs for the tourists. Gingerbread and aniseed star-shaped cookies are other popular servings. German Christollen or locally known as ‘Stollen,’ is a traditional cake made of fruit bread, topped with nuts, spices, cinnamon, and candied orange peels. Orange flavours are common ingredients in dessert preparations during this time. Similarly, cinnamon stars called ‘Zimtsterne’; Lackerli spice cookies from Basel, and the Swiss ‘Baumnuss Guetzli,’ or walnut cookies are the regional specialties.
Santa and his flying sleigh
Dotted with idyllic chalets, the streets of Montreux witness the spectacle of Santa’s flying sleigh waving at thronging crowds over Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). Just about twilight Santa welcomes and greets the crowds on his sleigh from the winter skies – singing carols, playing the guitar; wishing everyone Merry Christmas. In addition to these, Santa toy train rides touring markets, Santa ateliers or workshops at the village of elves, visit to Santa Post Office, and a ride to Rochers de Naye, the original house of Santa – nestled in the middle of glaciers with panoramic views, near Montreux, make for popular attractions
Candle dipping and handicraft workshops
From the last week of November until Christmas, candle dipping tents are organised all across street markets. Popularly known as ‘Kerzenziehen’, candle dipping in colourful paraffin wax remains a timeless tradition. Handcrafted tree-shaped candles of different sizes are popular choices for tree decorations and gifts. Similarly, artisanal soaps made of essential oils and homemade scrubs are also made.
Workshops for children on knitwear, embroidery, artisanal chocolate crafts at the ‘village of elves’ are also organised.
While the essence of Christmas vibes is the same across the world, ideas that celebrate inclusiveness and cultural diversity can be learned and organised. For instance, recently, Bengaluru unveiled the tallest Christmas tree. Such multicultural activities not only promote cultural integration, but also tourism, and local community development.
Here’s wishing everyone a splendid Christmas!