German Christmas Markets go wayyy back to the Middle Ages, and were started to provide an opportunity for people to stock up on items to make it through the winter months.
Nowadays, the markets are set up during Advent to bring together family and friends, to provide a festive venue where regional (preferred) vendors can offer their handmade goods for sale, to entice people to shop small and local, to spread Holiday cheer and to experience the magic of the season.
Christmas markets today come in different sizes, and can be found all over the world. Although many have been infused with local flair, there are a few authentically German "ingredients" that make them so popular, and magical. Among the must-haves are:
*wooden huts, festively decorated, for local vendors to sell their unique, hand-crafted goods
*seasonal fare, such as roasted nuts, gingerbread cookies, and most importantly, spiced mulled wine
*a Christmas tree, wooden Christmas pyramid and/or nativity scenes
Ideally, while you are gathered around a table next to a Glühwein hut with your dear ones, enjoying another cup of mulled wine, Christmas music plays in the background, the temperature dips just below the freezing point, and the snow starts to fall. You know the kind, the perfect-snowflake-producing kind.
If the above whet your appetite for a visit (and some mulled wine), you can find a comprehensive list of German-style Christmas Markets throughout the US at germanyinusa.com.
Locally, there's a quaint one at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, and the Downtown Holiday Market in Washington DC. Due to local laws, no spiked mulled wine is available at the latter, unfortunately.
*Just in case you are wondering, that is me in the black & white picture. I grew up in Germany and can speak with authority on this subject (which is making me quite a bit homesick). I have fond memories of annual visits to the Christmas markets, and it is still one of my favorite ways to get into the Holiday groove, to experience the magic and share it with my children, and to gather with family and friends. Happy Holidays!