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Why are German Christmas markets opening so early this year?

Most German Christmas markets don’t begin business until the end of November. But in some cities, the winter wonderlands are opening earlier than ever. What's going on?

Why are German Christmas markets opening so early this year?
Visitors stroll through Essen's Weihnachtsmarkt, which opens on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

The downtown Duisburg Christmas market is in full swing this year, 17 full days before the first Sunday Advent. This is earlier than ever, at least in the Ruhr area of North Rhine-Westphalia. Churches across Germany are expected to criticize this growing trend, yet many cities are defending their choices. 

“The Christmas market in Duisburg will open this year on November 14th, one day ahead of the Christmas markets in Essen and Oberhausen. The opening hours of the Christmas markets are mainly due to high demand from visitors,” a city project manager in Duisburg explained.

READ ALSO: 8 of the most beautiful German Christmas markets

Four women toast each other with Glühwein at the opening of the Freiburg Christmas market. Photo: DPA

Local church representatives collaborated with the city and agreed with the dates in Duisburg, he added. Additionally, the market recognizes important holy days like Totensonntag (Sunday of the Dead), Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to the city. 

“We are trying to meet the needs of our retailers, the inner-city trade and, above all, the demand of visitors,” he said.

The story is similar for Essen's early Christmas market. It will be closed for Volkstrauertag (this year on November 17th) as well as Totensonntag (November 24th).

And Essen and Duisburg are not alone with their very early Christmas markets. Even in Catholic-leaning Austria, marketplaces are getting a head start. For example, the Wiener Weihnachtstraum (Viennese Christmas Dream) opens November 15th.  

Even in Berlin, where big markets open only after Totensonntag and stay until the New Year, a similar phenomenon is playing out. The so-called Winterwelt (Winter World) at Potsdamer Platz, which is hardly distinguishable from a real Christmas market, has been open since November 2nd. 

Even more extreme, the Bayreuther Winterdorf (Bayreuth Winter Village) opened on October 17th this year. The marketplace proudly calls itself the first Christmas gathering “in the whole of Germany and certainly all of Europe.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about preparing for Christmas 

A photo of the Christmas market in Bielefeld, North Rhine Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Nevertheless, the churches see the early Christmas markets as a commodification of important Christian holidays. Ulrich Lota, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Essen, says the markets are an advertising tool to lure people into the city and away from online shopping. 

“It is important to remember, even amongst the commerce and consumption, that Christmas is not just some cultural holiday at the end of the year, but the celebration of the birth of Jesus,” she said. 

However, churches don’t want to strictly forbid something that brings many joy during the season. 

Christmas markets in Freiburg, Bochum and Dortmunder, as well as the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt in Austria and the Weinachtsdorf am Bellevue in Zurich are all open as early as November 21st, the Thursday before Totensonntag.

In most cities, however, the Christmas markets open only after Totensonntag. Cities like Kassel, Frankfurt am Main, Cologne, Hamburg, Hanover, Bielefeld, Potsdam, Cottbus, Rostock and Lübeck hold off on the Glühwein and other classic Christmas treats until November 25th. 

In Erfurt, Weimar and Leipzig, the celebrations start on November 26th, and in Munich on Marienplatz and in Stuttgart only a day later on November 27th. The Dresden Striezelmarkt begins on Wednesday before the First Advent.

The Mainz Christmas Market opens on November 28th, and the famous Nuremberg Christkindlmarkt kicks off on November 29th, the Friday before the First Advent.

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German Christmas market closures ‘can’t be ruled out’: health expert

As Germany battles a fierce Covid wave, concerns are growing over events, with one health expert saying closures of the country's beloved Christmas markets can't be ruled out.

Revellers enjoy mulled wine at the 'Santa Pauli' Christmas market in Hamburg on November 15th.
Revellers enjoy mulled wine at the 'Santa Pauli' Christmas market in Hamburg on November 15th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

Martina Wenker, president of the Lower Saxony Medical Association, said she believed Christmas markets may have to be cancelled if the Covid-19 situation gets worse in Germany. 

“Depending on the regional incidence situation, closures should not be ruled out in extreme cases,” Wenker told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

“We can’t stand by and celebrate while next door in the hospitals, planned operations have to be postponed frequently, corona patients are dying, and staff in practices and clinics are at their limits.”

Wenker said regional leaders allowed the opening of Christmas markets on the basis that the Covid situation was moderate.

“But if we reach higher levels of escalation, we will have to consider whether Christmas markets are still justifiable,” she said.

Germany on Tuesday reported 32,048 Covid infections within 24 hours and 265 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence increased to 312.4 Covid cases per 100,000 residents. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s Covid incidence tops 300 for first time

‘Maximum safety’

Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said on Monday that he wanted to ensure there was “maximum safety” around Christmas markets.

He said it will be among the topics discussed at the Covid crisis talks between the federal government and state leaders this Thursday. 

In general, Söder said mask requirements should remain at Christmas markets as well as distance rules and other protection measures. 

In an interview with broadcaster Bayern3, Söder explained that so far there is no legal framework for Bavaria to cancel Christmas markets. “At the moment, we cannot legally order it,” he said.

Some Christmas markets, which have recently opened to the public, are already enforcing strict rules such as excluding the unvaccinated from entry, or not serving alcohol to people unless they can show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid. 



Christmas market – (der) Weihnachtsmarkt

Celebrate – feiern

Planned operations/procedures – geplante Eingriffe 

Postponed – verschoben

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