Rituals of the World – Christkindlesmarkt
A market rich in tradition
There are scenes of celebration on the Friday before the first Sunday in Advent, as the Christkind, dressed in a shiny dress and a golden, curly wig, asks for the attention of the crowd from the balcony of the Church of Our Lady in Nuremberg: “You men and women, who once yourselves were children, you little ones, whose life’s journey is just beginning, each and all, who troubled tomorrow, are full of cheer today: Pray listen to what the Christkind has come to say!” That is the prologue of the opening ceremony of the “Christkindlesmarkt”, the Christmas market, which many people of Nuremburg as well as many others can recite by heart.
After all, with two million visitors a year, the “little town of wood and cloth” – meaning the red-and-white striped fabric covering the stands – is probably the most famous Christmas market in the world, the epitome of German pre-Christmas coziness. This year, the 180 stands around the central crib are offering everything that is part of that feeling: Wooden toys, arts and crafts, festive decorations, candles and, of course, Nuremberg specialties, particularly gingerbread, plum manikins, and sausages.
Little treasure trove
Against the historical backdrop of Nuremberg’s old city center, the opening ritual and the entire market square seem as if it were an ancient institution, indeed as if the square had been created especially for this major event. And yes, the history of the “Christkindlesmarkt” goes back a long way. It probably originated in the early 17th century, when the custom of giving presents to children shifted from St. Nicholas’ Day to Christmas Eve. In the 19th century, however, the market became less and less important and was thus moved to smaller squares. Only in the 1930s was it reestablished in its present form on the “Hauptmarkt”, the main market square, with the thatched crib at its center. The opening ritual also originated from this period. The staging was designed to present Nuremberg as a “little treasure trove” of German culture – and it has remained successful to this day, not least because it has been reworked over and over again. The prologue was rewritten a number of times and since the 1970s the market has been opened before the first Sunday in Advent and no longer on St. Barbara’s Day, December 4. These changes resulted in a pleasant ritual of its own and since the 1960s the Christkind has no longer simply been chosen from above. Since then, every two years the people of Nuremburg democratically elect a new one, the prerequisite being that the Christkind must be at least 1.60 meters tall and not scared of heights.
In fact, today’s “Christkindlesmarkt” in Nuremberg is a modern, less authentic, and more nostalgic event. However, that is no reason not to take pleasure in strolling through the alleys between the stands. Who thinks “It’s all just scenery!” all the time when watching a grandiose historical film? And a film doesn’t appeal to the senses as universally as the Christmas market with its groups playing wind instruments, the fragrance of gingerbread, and frosty cold fingers, which you warm up on a cup of mulled wine. At the end of the prologue, the Christkind professes the right attitude: “You men and women, who once yourselves were children, be them again today, happy as children be.”
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