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A Short History of the
Viennese Christmas Market

The first Christmas markets were held in Vienna more than seven centuries ago, and they still hold a unique appeal for locals and visitors to this day. From the very outset these markets have been shaped by the stallholders who work there.

In 1296, Emperor Albrecht I granted Viennese traders and shopkeepers the privilege of holding a December Market for the city’s population. In the sixteenth century the Thomasmarkt – the precursor of today’s Christkindlmarkt – took place around Christmas and New Year's Eve. Beside standard goods such as textiles and groceries, the Thomasmarkt sold delicious gingerbreads and pastries which were all the rage at the time.

 

Around 200 years later the market’s name had changed to the Nikolo- und Weihnachtsmarkt or Krippenmarkt (crib market), and it was again given over to traders and retailers.

 

 

 

From its inception this market has been the exclusive preserve of small traders – after all, these were the people who ensured a steady supply of goods for the city’s burghers, even in the most difficult times. The city first celebrated Christmas as we would now recognise it in the Biedermeier period during the first half of the nineteenth century). The celebration was first taken up by the Viennese aristocracy who put up Christmas trees in their city palaces, in line with the northern German tradition.

But it was not until around 1814 and the time of the Vienna Congress that the custom of giving Christmas presents took hold. At this point the market had moved to Am Hof in the first district, and we know from contemporary invoices that it sold special Christmas goods (angels, silver-plated nuts, ribbons, lametta, candles, etc.) alongside the standard market fare.

 

 

The market finally settled at its current location on Vienna Rathausplatz in 1975. The annual Magic of Advent in Vienna, as the event is now known, has lost none of its charm and attracts more and more visitors each year. This spellbinding winter wonderland has made the transition from an exclusively Viennese event to a truly international affair with some 145 stalls. Each year more than three million visitors come to the market, including 500,000 from abroad.

The stallholders and traders provide a direct link to the market’s humble beginnings, and ensure that it has lost nothing of its charm and beauty. Year in year out, the Magic of Advent in Vienna conquers children’s hearts. The tin soldiers of yore have given way to newer toys but one thing never changes: the little ones joyful faces!

 

 

 

Over the centuries Viennese Christmas markets have been much more than a place to stock up on supplies, also serving as meeting place and bringing together people from all around the globe. The stallholders will continue to play their role, holding visitors under their spell and drawing the crowds for centuries to come!