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Budapest Christmas Market

Fireworks Aren’t the Only Sparkle on Our Minds this Summer

It’s the time of year for dazzling light shows and grand celebrations, and all the fireworks and sparklers have us daydreaming about the sparkle and spectacle of the famous Christmas markets in Germany, Hungary and Austria. Looking ahead just a few short months, the winter wonderlands along Europe’s rivers will come to life in their holiday finery, enticing visitors with centuries-old traditions, treats and tidings of great joy.

To prepare you for the magic of these European holidays aboard Crystal River Cruises, we present you with a sampling of delights that are distinctly characteristic of Europe’s Christmas markets along the Danube and Rhine rivers. Some things make the ideal gifts to bring home, others are meant to be savored in the moment. Regardless, these individual objects add up to an indescribable holiday experience:

Intricate, hand-blown glass ornaments. The concept of fashioning decorative tree ornaments from glass originated in Germany, and the delicate art endures today. These aren’t the thin, foil-lined, shatter-the-moment-you-open-them glass ornaments. These are hand-crafted from molten glass and set into clay molds. They are then lined inside with a solution of silver nitrate and carefully painted on the outside.

The hand-crafted glass ornaments at Nuremburg’s famous Christmas market

Music. Okay, this is kind of a given. After all, these are the cities of the masters – some of whom our very ships were named for – and no traditional celebration in virtually any culture is complete without music. In Salzburg (the birthplace of Mozart), marketgoers can sing along with the choir every Tuesday and classical wind music is performed above the square each Thursday and Saturday, creating a truly angelic scene. Also fittingly, Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace market features live music daily, from gospel to jazz bands.

Advent Calendars. These artistically crafted calendars are quintessential features of any Bavarian market. Salzburg takes this tradition a step further, as its market is one of the world’s oldest Advent markets. Look for the massive central calendar located in Hellbrunn Market. Budapest makes a daily show of its advent calendar displays in the window of the 19th-century Gerbaud Café.

The warm spice of Glühwein is a favorite tradition at Bavarian Christmas markets

Glühwein. Roughly translated to “glowing wine” from the temperature to which the wine is boiled, this mulled spiced sip of heaven is a staple at Bavarian Christkindlemärkte, or Christmas markets. Typically blending dry red wine, brandy, citrus and spices, it’s served in charming porcelain boot-shaped mugs for that extra festive warming feel.

Helpful hint: Glühwein is a German specialty. The same spiced mulled wine is available at Vienna’s Christmas market, but you’ll need to ask for Weihnachtspunsch.

Zwetschgenmännle. A special kind of quirky art piece, these famous “prune people” are distinctly Nuremberg. Historically made as charming edible gifts for children – plums or prunes fashioned into little men – they’ve now endured the centuries and take on a vast range of identities, from car-driving trumpet players to Harley Davidson-riding prune men.

Skaters glide along the ice beneath the twinkling lights of Budapest’s Christmas market

Ice rinks. Budapest wins the prize for most opportunities to exercise while enjoying your Christmas market shopping. Several of the cities markets feature manmade ice rinks in the heart of the festivities, like that at St. Stephen’s Basilica, although the Ice Rink Palace in the City Park offers a massive open-air rink that embodies the spirit of the season.

Nutcrackers and Wood-Carved Toys. Another classic German gift, nutcrackers of all sizes adorn the Christmas market stalls, as do hand-carved wooden spring toys that range from Pinocchio-esque puppets to ethereal winged angels.

One thing you won’t find at the markets? Santa. Vienna’s holiday traditions are steeped in history and authenticity, banning virtually any plastic toys and imagery of Santa Claus – considered the epitome of commercialized Christmas by locals – in favor of the joys of old and visits from the Christkindl.

Explore the spectacular Christmas markets of Europe along the aboard Crystal Mozart, Crystal Bach, Crystal Mahler, Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel this November and December.


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