It’s my favorite time of year, St. Patrick’s Day. Clocks spring forward and daylight devours night, colorful buds sprout on deserted branches and storefront windows display rainbows, four-leaf clovers, and cauldrons full of gold signifying the start of the festivities. Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, especially in the United States.
The Republic of Ireland Flag
Who is St. Patrick to the Irish?
He is the Patron Saint of Ireland, credited with bringing Christianity to the Emerald Isle in the latter half of the 5th Century. It is believed he died on March 17 and the Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, Anglican Church and Eastern Orthodox faiths observe this date to celebrate his life and missionary work.
My Irish friends don’t understand the fuss Americans make regarding their holiday being widely celebrated in the United States with elaborate parades, month-long festivals and shamrock colored shakes at McDonald’s. For the Irish, it’s a bank holiday and businesses, schools and even pubs are closed (outside of major cities). Many Catholics attend Mass, people dress up in green, pin a corsage to their lapel and little girls fasten flowing ribbons in their hair. The Catholic Church grants a dispensation on St. Patrick’s Day giving people the day off from Lenten observances and the children take full opportunity to consume sweets and adults relish in a pint of beer or glass of whiskey all in the name of St. Paddy.
A family friend, Jean O’Callaghan of Lahinch, Ireland, told me, “I’m a bit of a cynic or something, but for a long time now, I am not sure he (St. Patrick) existed. A bit like Santa Claus but was a super marketing coup.”
When Jean was younger, there were small parades in Ireland comprised of boy scouts, the army and local brass bands or football (rugby) clubs. Nothing like today’s sizable parades in Chicago and New York and definitely no corned beef!
My Irish outfit on St. Patrick’s Day during March Madness
In the United States, we adorn green top hats, drink green beer and Guinness, march in parades but mostly we crowd pubs and restaurants to listen to Irish music and toast our Irish comrades across the Atlantic Ocean. We drink Baileys Irish Cream, dance the Irish jig and embrace our often non-existent Irish roots with buttons declaring, Kiss me I am Irish or Irish for the Day and my favorite I Bleed Green. The American ensemble typically consists of floppy hats, green shamrock sweaters and beads. We love beads. I admit to wearing a Leprechaun inspired hat and Kelly green fitted jacket every holiday.
Family trip to Ireland in 1999
In 2016, my father became an Irish Citizen after a year’s wait. It took both of us working side by side examining difficult to read ship manifests and his family’s genealogy reports from County Mayo to piece together his family’s 150-year-old history before he could apply for citizenship. The Irish Government grants citizenship to foreign-born children and grandchildren of Irish-born citizens. When I asked my dad why he wanted to be Irish, he said, “It was important to honor his ancestors who strived to give him a better life.” My dad is a proud Irishman, the only true Irishman in our family (my mother maintains German roots). His paternal grandfather hailed from County Mayo and his maternal great grandparents from County Meath. I treasured the time I spent with my dad working on his citizenship papers and while my DNA report states that I am only 68 percent Irish/Great Britain, on St. Patrick’s Day I am 100 percent Irish.
This small and enchanting town is Europe’s most beautiful medieval spot and one of Germany’s most festive Christmas markets. It’s only a few hours from Frankfurt airport so make it a must see on arrival or departure. There are cobblestone streets, red tiled roofs and Christmas is a presence year round. There is plenty to eat and drink and the shops cater to local artisans with knitted fashions and chocolate being some of the favorites.
Special to Rothenburg is the Schneebälle – A snowball-shaped sweet made of shortbread and covered with sugar, cinnamon, and all kinds of chocolate and nuts.
Dessert pastry made from shortcrust popular in Rothenburg
What to see
St. Jakobs Lutheran Church – One of the churches on the pilgrimage route to St. James grave in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It dates back to 1300s.
Käthe Wohlfahrt – Christmas shop and museum all in one. They have rare ornaments and wreaths for purchase and the museum provides a wonderful history of tree decorating, ornaments and how Christmas evolved over the years.
The famous Christmas store in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
The markets date back to 1628 when the tradition of giving children presents started in Germany. There are nearly 200 red and white striped stalls filling the entire old town. This is where I had to tell myself if I can’t beat them, join them in eating grilled sausages, potatoes and sauerkraut. The Christmas concerts in the churches are offered throughout the weekend and in the evening. There are also musicians scattered at the various markets throughout the city. This is one of Europe’s largest and most attended markets.
The gold foil armless angel, symbolic of Nuremberg
Special to Nuremberg is the Gold Foil Angel – Legend says a Nuremberg doll maker made it for his sick daughter. The Christkind – Don’t miss a photo opportunity with the symbol of Christmas in Nuremberg. A blond curly haired woman with a golden crown and golden white gown, the winner of this honor can be found wandering around the main square. Authentic Nuremberg Gingerbread – Rows and rows of gingerbread small and large, decorative or to eat can be found at nearly every stall. Under European Union law, gingerbread can only be produced within the city limits of Nuremberg. Drink Glühwein from the largest punch bowl in the world located on the River Pegnitz.
The Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds is one of Germany’s most important museums dedicated to the history of Adolf Hitler’s rise and World War II. It’s also the place where the Nazi Party held rallies. Expect to spend a few hours touring the museum and the grounds.
Albrecht Dürer’s House – A Renaissance artist, he was Germany’s most famous graphic artist, painter, and art theoretician, (1471-1528). The home survived fierce bombings from World War II and is beautifully preserved.
Red and white striped stalls in Nuremberg, Germany
There are six different markets spread across the historic old town with the Heidelberg Castle serving as a significant backdrop. It’s a charming university town full of lights, shopping, and restaurants to enjoy.
In the heart of Bavaria in Southern Germany, Munich offers Christmas markets with all the trimmings. The oldest Christmas market in Germany, it was called Nikolausdult when farmers would come to town and sell their goods in front of churches around St. Nicholas Day. The name was changed to Christkindlmarkt in the 1800s for the Christ Child born on Christmas Day. Munich has several markets spread throughout the city and the streets are crowded with locals and tourists busying themselves with holiday cheer. The department stores decorated windows tell fairytale stories attracting hordes of people gazing at the life-like characters.
A cauldron of glühwein in the Renaissance Village Christmas Market in Munich
Special to Munich is the Renaissance themed Mittelaltermarkt where vendors are dressed in costume such as jesters, religious monks and paupers. Glühwein is served from cauldrons.
Where I stayed NH München Deutscher Kaiser
DB Parkhaus Hauptbahnhof
(Steps away from the train station and convenient to shopping and local markets)
Düsseldorf was completely destroyed during World War II but it has been restored to a glorious, thriving, bustling city. There are shopping malls and department stores for everyone and Kö Boulevard caters to the rich and famous. The city maintains a large international population. Following World War II, an influx of Japanese immigrants arrived promoting business opportunities and innovation.
Seven Christmas markets cover the narrow streets in the old town butting against the rushing waters of the Rhine River. Canals and quaint bridges add to the illusions of grandeur and romance. There is a giant ferris wheel on Burgplatz and plenty of activities for kids including a puppet theater on Marktplatz. The ice skating rink occupies several city blocks and serves as the center of activity for visitors. During the day, the markets are quiet except for shoppers passing through and parents calming children but once the sun fades, locals swarm the markets and the party begins.
Old Town of Düsseldorf along Kö Blvd.
Special to Düsseldorf is “Engelchenmarkt” or Angel Market on Heinrich-Heine-Platz. Angels decorated in art nouveau adorn stalls in this section and there is a large pavilion for people to gather, listen to music and eat and drink. The handmade nutcrackers on display and stark white crystal ornaments are worth a look.
Engelchenmarkt” Angel Market on Heinrich-Heine-Platz in Düsseldorf, Germany
Escape the stresses of life and be swept away by the historic landscape of Vienna. The city’s Christkindlmarkts highlight the essence of Christmas by incorporating art and music with traditional elements. All of Austria is on display whether it’s ice skating trails at Rathausplatz or the captivating entertainment and lavishness at Schönbrunn Palace. There are 20 markets across the city making it possible to spend three days in Vienna challenging any diet. Vienna is the place to eat, drink and be merry. There isn’t one dish that won’t drive your taste buds mad. Take a horse carriage ride, explore the present and the past in one of the city’s premier art galleries and make sure to visit the markets by day and night. The illuminated stalls and trees create a sensational yet mysterious glow.
Special to Vienna is the ART Advent Market at Karlsplatz offering all certified organic products. There is a designated area for children to play.
Where I stayed Hotel Kärntnerhof
1010 Wien, Grashofgasse 4
(Great shopping area and central location)
Where I ate
Café, Restaurant, Bar
(Hungarian Goulash – cute atmosphere horrible service)
(Traditional dishes everyone speaks English. Located in one of the oldest districts in Vienna.
(Make a reservation on weekends)
What to see Schloss Schönbrunn Konzerte – Orangerie Schönbrunn – Enjoy a performance to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Strauss in a palace setting.
The Austrian National Library – The baroque state hall is one of the most beautiful historic libraries in the world. Commissioned by Emperor Karl Vi (1685-1740) it was built from 1723 to 1726. There are 200,000 books and four of the most gorgeous standing globes.
Schönbrunn Palace – Take a break from the Christmas market and visit the palace: The Grand Tour or Imperial Palace Tour takes about 30 – 50 minutes. The palace is the former imperial summer residence.
Imperial capital and home to the ruling Habsburg dynasty in Vienna, Austria
Salzburg is my favorite Christmas market. It is small and manageable and possesses charm while epitomizing all the traditions of the season. Dating back to the 15th century, the Christkindlmarkt started as a flea market in front of the main church around the time of Advent and today is one of Europe’s most treasured Christkindlmarkts. While the stalls and merchandise on display resemble other Christmas markets, the landscape of the surrounding mountains and Salzach River captures the beauty of the town. Home to Mozart, music is a way of life in Salzburg. Choral and brass music concerts occur nightly in front of the Cathedral catering to both English and German speaking guests.
Krampus, a half-goat, half-demon, horrific beast who beats people into being nice and not naughty
Special to Salzburg is the Krampus Run where groups of Krampus figures run and greet each other by rubbing chains. Krampus is a horned figure-half goat, half demon who punishes naughty children. He is the opposite of Saint Nicholas who rewarded the children with gifts of chocolate and fruit. On December 6 in the old town, Saint Nicholas and Krampus appear at the market with gifts for children.
Where I stayed Gasthof Goldgasse
Small Luxury Hotels of the World
(Hotel Restaurant is also very good)
Where I ate Restaurant Goldener Hirsch is a landmark of Salzburg. A former blacksmith’s shop, the restaurant is now a favorite of celebrities and tourists. Offers traditional Austrian dishes.
Enjoying Glühwein in Salzburg, Vienna
What to see Salzburg Cathedral – A baroque style Catholic Church, it towers over the heart of the old town. The original church was constructed in 774 but destroyed after a fire. It was built again in 1614. During World War II, a bomb fell on the dome damaging much of the church. The interior is stunning. Check out the crypt and museum.
Residenzplatz – One of the world’s oldest advent markets believed to be started in the 14th Century. In the shadows (literally) of the Salzburg Cathedral, the market offers a picturesque ice skating rink and a Christmas history museum, pretzels, Swiss cheese sandwiches, hats, wood carved platters, ornaments and life size Santa decorations.
I fell in love with Strasbourg. It’s a special blend of romance, history and architecture-a quintessential Christmas fairytale. It’s a city where snow and rain add value to the setting. As one of Europe’s oldest markets, it claims the title, “Capital of Christmas” and with 11 markets spread throughout the old town there is something for everyone. The Alsace region is influenced by both German and French language and culture. Stalls offer breads and cakes made with spices like ginger and orange and of course cheese and chocolate feature prominently in every dish. The canals and narrow streets encircle the old town providing a respite from reality allowing visitors to step back in time and chase the magic of Christmas.
The Capital of Christmas in Strasbourg, France
Special to Strasbourg is the Great Christmas Tree located in the Place Kléber or pick out your own tree at the lots located throughout the market. This year Strasbourg is showcasing Gutenberg, Iceland where a traditional Icelandic Village has been created. Don’t miss the white glühwein. It’s less tart and sweeter than its red partner.
Where I stayed Hôtel D
15 Rue du Fossé des Treize,
67000 Strasbourg, France
Phone: +33 3 88 15 13 67
Pain D’Épices – Chef Mireille Oster
Located in Petite-France
14, rue des Dentelles
(Delicious local breads and cookies)
Ill River – Canals of Strasbourg, France
What to see The Musée alsacien (Alsatian Museum) – Experience what life used to be like in the 18th and 19th centuries in Alsace. The museum contains preserved furniture, clothing, wedding dresses and other home items.