The Most Magical Christmas Market In Europe

market
Christmas Market

January 25, 2017

Allan Stevo

“What’s to-day!” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.
“Eh?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.
“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.
“To-day!” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas Day.”
“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”
“Hallo!” returned the boy.
“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.
“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.
“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there?—Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?”
“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.
“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”
“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.
“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”
“Walk-er!” exclaimed the boy.
“No, no,” said Scrooge, “I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell ’em to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with the man, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with him in less than five minutes and I’ll give you half-a-crown!”
The boy was off like a shot. He must have had a steady hand at a trigger who could have got a shot off half so fast.

As a child, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and couldn’t even imagine what the Christmastime market looked like where Scrooge sent the runner boy to get the prize turkey. It seemed a place of wonder.

Then I moved to Europe, got a taste of that splendor, and realized what I was missing. The six weeks before Christmas are the most magnificent time to step foot in Bratislava, with one notable caveat.

The weather across Europe isn’t great at this time of year. It’s so bad that all the cruise lines move their ships out of European waters and into the Caribbean, in the process having to charge significantly less in the transatlantic voyage. November in Bratislava has a fairly dependable, penetrating, cold, wet consistency.

And with that caveat, the Christmas markets of Europe are part of the joy of the weather. If you bundle up and get a warm drink in you surrounded by other friendly, festive people, the weather can practically be a pleasant part of the experience.

STA Travel ran an article entitled 5 of the most magical Christmas markets in Europe. I’m happy to see that they paid solid attention to destinations east – where so much of the daring adventure of European travel can so easily be found. They unfortunately missed one of the markets on their list that included Vilnius, Budapest, Bremen, Gothenburg, and Strasbourg. They missed The Most Magical Christmas Market in Europe – located in Bratislava, Slovakia.

I won’t push my opinion of that issue on you, but I will push on you my reasons why I find some Christmas markets truly amazing and so far above and beyond others.

1)Delicious homemade food – If it contains home then a Christmas market is a truly special one. I don’t want the efforts of a highfalutin chef at a Christmas market, I can get that any day at that chef’s restaurant. I want homemade.

2)Good prices – I can take the €20 bill sitting in the change container on my bookshelf and get some dinner in a restaurant in Bratislava, a few things at some Western Christmas markets, or I can get so many things in the Bratislava Christmas market. It has good prices. From the list above, Vilnius and Budapest pass that test while Bremen, Gothenburg, and Strasbourg do not. Stay East for value.

3)Foods you will not commonly find – spend years in a country, eat in hundreds of homes, and a Christmas market done right will still astound you with something you’ve never even seen or heard of. Plus it will offer variations on the familiar that you’ve never even thought of, which brings me to the next one.

4)Special takes on familiar dishes – A good Christmas market is full of booths run by families and friends making a good time of the experience and putting their best foot forward. That potentially means really awesome renditions of dishes that might be familiar but that are so well done. Like any other environment there will be duds, but by being a little circumspect you can sort through those. Being circumspect is a total joy. For the food lover, sorting through all the varieties of poppy seed containing desserts or the finest mulled wines or the most delicious Ciganska Pečienka is a welcome challenge. Choose a dish you want to find the best of, get a few friends together, and commit yourselves to making it happen. So much fun to enjoy the Christmas Market in this way.

5)A plethora of locally made crafts – what fun it is to look at all the handmade Slovak toys, locally made textiles, Christmas ornaments, lead crystal, blown glass, wood working, warm sheep skins, warm hats, and warm mittens. For those that love shopping for the unique, what a treasure a Christmas market can be.

6)An absence of Chinese made goods – This is a noticeable detail that helps separate the best Christmas markets from the second tier Christmas markets. A presence of Chinese made goods cheapens the feel of a place. All goods don’t need to be locally made, but are any of these items made in China or some similar factory filled place that does cheap exports well and therefore easily available all year round, or does this place have an exclusive collection of goods that can’t be found easily anywhere else? If you find a Christmas market that provides you with a collection of items that can be found nowhere else – not even on the internet – and at no other time of year, you have found something special.

7)A good Ciganska – In the Bratislava Christmas market you can find approximately 50 types of sandwiches called Ciganska Pecienka (playfully referenced by some as the morbid sounding “Gypsy Liver” in English). This thing is truly magnificent. A sandwich of delicious marinated meat, a warm toasted bun, slow sautéed onions and whatever other recipe changes the chef of that stand has brought into being. With so much passion put into the recipe of a simple sandwich and so many competitors to choose from, the advent season for me demands this special flavor and the sights sounds and smells of anticipating it cooking.

8)A robust competitive environment – The more competition, the better. Competition serves you the consumer. In farmers markets in New York City, there are strict prohibitions on who can sell what on which days in order to limit competition. This harms the consumer eager for high quality and a good price. While it would be even nicer for the consumer if literally anyone could open a booth, the Bratislava Christmas market has a long history of allowing an anything goes, highly competitive environment that truly benefits visitors to the market.

One may think that Slovakia as a post communist country is relatively lacking in a robust atmosphere of competition, and that would be generally true. Slovaks have had a hard time figuring out ways to amass capital to make local companies outstanding champions. However, when it comes to smaller scale goods, and services, that is absolutely not the case. Businesses that might require a license, demand a €500 investment, and require time and hard work – like a Christmas market stand – are a very different story.

Every year there is quite a competition that takes place in the relatively free markets of the Bratislava Christmas market and the consumers of those products are far better off for that competition.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Photo Credit: spectator.sme.sk

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