Ahhh, Wal-Mart in December…screaming children, endless lines to check out, and shopping cart traffic jams blocking the aisles. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Wal-Mart may be the quintessential American Christmas shopping experience, but this time of year makes me dream longingly of Europe’s Christmas markets. A tradition that started in Germany and has now spread all over Europe, Christmas markets feature lots of food, drinks and unique items to fill your family’s stockings. There’s also glühwein, hot mulled wine that’s often fortified with brandy. If that won’t get you into the holiday spirit, I’m afraid you must be an incurable Scrooge.

According to Wikipedia, the tradition of the holiday market dates back to 1294, with the city of Vienna’s “December Market.” Here’s the scoop on 5 of the oldest and/or most popular holiday markets today:

  • The Nuremberg Christmas Market runs until Christmas Eve. The Nuremberg Christmas Angel presides over the ceremonies, which attract about 2 million people each year. Canned Christmas carols are strictly verboten.
  • The Dresden Christmas Market dates back to 1434 and is one of the oldest holiday markets. It also runs until Christmas Eve. Highlights include handblown glass, handmade candles, traditional handmade toys, wine punch, rum punch, and a list of delightful-sounding goodies like stuffed apples and deep-fried cheese balls. Also, Santa goes through the market once a day and delivers a toy to each and every child. Magical.
  • Stuttgart’s Christmas Market is probably the largest in Europe. It’s also one of the most heavily visited, attracting around 3.5 million people every year.
  • The Christmas Market in Birmingham, England is the largest in the UK. Like the other markets, it features lots of German goodies, live music and presents.
  • The Fira de Santa Llúcia, in Barcelona, Spain, has been held since 1786. It is famous for amazing handcrafted sculptures made of cork. Another claim to fame: little figurines of people relieving themselves. Called caganer, these figures are commonly placed in nativity scenes.

Of course, to get to a Christmas market before Christmas Eve, you’ll need a last-minute flight deal and an express passport if you don’t already have one. Express passports can be obtained at a Passport Agency office, but given that there’s still only 21 of them open to the general public in the entire US, a private passport expediting company like RushMyPassport is probably a more convenient option.

We deliver your express passport application to the Department of State, for processing times as low as 24 hours. Beat that, Santa!

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