The history of Christmas markets goes back to the Late Middle Ages in the German speaking part of Europe. The Dresden Christmas market, first held in 1434, is one of the oldest Christmas markets. It attracts between 1.5 and 2 million visitors a year and has over 250 stalls. The Bautzen Christmas market was even older, first being mentioned in records in 1384. The Vienna "December market" was a kind of forerunner of the Christmas market and dates back to 1294.
In many towns in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and in the United Kingdom. Advent is usually ushered in with the opening of the Christmas market or Famous Christmas markets are held in the cities of Dortmund, Erfurt, Nuremberg, Dresden, Stuttgart and Augsburg making them popular tourist attractions. The Nuremberg and Dresden markets draw about two million people each year; the Stuttgart market attracts more than three million visitors and the Dortmund market can claim one of the biggest Christmas markets in Germany, with over 300 stalls packed around a gigantic Christmas tree creation that stands 45 metres tall.
Strasbourg, in Alsace, France, has been holding a Christmas market, "Christkindelsmärik," around its cathedral since 1570, when it was part of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation.
Christmas markets are traditional in Alsace and most of the towns have their local Christmas market.
In 1982 Lincoln, England established an annual Christmas market in early December, and this remains the most extensive such market by area in the United Kingdom, with a claimed total of over 300 stalls attracting more than 100,000 visitors over its four days. Large Christmas markets are also held in England in Leeds and Birmingham, with visiting traders from Frankfurt. The Birmingham Christmas Market was the largest in the UK in 2009 attracting over 2.8 million visitors over four weeks. Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester, and Nottingham also hold similar markets; with Manchester having around 200 stalls in 2007, attracting nearly 1.2 million visitors over five weeks.
"Weihnachtsmarkt". In southern Germany and Austria it is sometimes called a "Christkind(e)l(s)markt" (German language, literally meaning "Christ child market"). Generally held in the town square and adjacent pedestrian zones, the market sells food, drink, and seasonal items from open-air stalls, accompanied by traditional singing and dancing. On opening nights (and in some towns more often) onlookers welcome the "Christkind", or boy Jesus, acted out by a local child.
Popular attractions at the market include the Nativity Scene (a crèche or crib), Zwetschgamännla (figures made of decorated dried plums), Nussknacker (carved Nutcrackers), Gebrannte Mandeln (candied, toasted almonds), traditional Christmas cookies such as Lebkuchen and Magenbrot (both forms of soft gingerbread), Christstollen (Stollen), a sort of egg bread with candied fruit, Bratwurst, and for many visitors one of the highlights of the market: Glühwein, hot mulled wine (with or without a shot of brandy), or Eierpunsch (an egg-based warm alcoholic drink). Both help stave off the cold winter air which sometimes dips below freezing. Many other handmade items, toys, books, Christmas tree decorations and ornaments can be found at the Christkindlmarkt.