Celebrating Saint Nicholas Day & Germany’s Christmas Market Season

Two male hands, holding white "Christkindlmarkt" mugs filled with Gluhwein (mulled wine) at the Oberammergau, Germany Christkindlmarkt.

On the eve of December 6th, when I was a child, I placed my shiniest shoes in front of my bedroom door, anticipating the arrival of St. Nicholas. The next morning, I eagerly popped out of bed, delighted to find my footwear stuffed with oranges, Christmas cookies, chocolates, and tiny trinkets. St. Nick didn’t visit most of my classmates’ homes but I suspect he visited mine because of my family’s German ancestry.

Last night, in homes throughout Germany and other corners of Europe, many children prepared for Sankt Nikolaus’ arrival in much the same way as I used to. Legend has it that ‘good’ children will find their footwear overflowing with sweet treats and small toys. Naughty kids, on the other hand, are only gifted a bundle of twigs.

A man, dressed as St. Nicholas, hands a child an orange at a German Christkindlmarkt in Bavaria.
A horse-drawn sleigh carries passengers past frescoed homes in Oberammergau, Germany, on the occasion of St. Nicholas Day.
Families meet a man dressed as St. Nicholas at an outdoor holiday market in Germany.
Crafts and food for sale at an outdoor Christmas market in Oberammergau, Germany.

Santa Claus is believed to have developed from this custom, with stockings overtaking shoes as a vessel for holiday goodies.

This past weekend, we had our first sighting of St. Nicholas, braving frosty weather to partake in Oberammergau’s Christkindl Market fanfare. While a choir sang holiday tunes in German and English, revelers warmed their hands by swirling mugs of ruby-red Glühwein (literally ‘glow wine’ — a hot, mulled wine beverage with red wine and spices).

White Christkindlmarkt mugs are stored upside down on a red table at a German Christmas market.
Oberammergau Christkindlmarkt mugs sit upside down at a Glühwein stand.
Shawn and my father make a toast.

Stands staffed by hearty residents of all ages overflowed with a blend of culinary offerings such as homemade donuts, heart-shaped waffles, cakes dusted with a snow-like sugar, plump bratwurst and golden schnitzel. Some catered to the holiday gift shopper, while one stand offered attendees the chance to guess the weight of meat prizes. As the afternoon progressed, more and more snowflakes danced down from the sky and young girls dressed like angels handed out flyers for upcoming community holiday events.

Girls, dressed as angels, hand out brochures spreading the word about upcoming holiday events.
People socialize at an outdoor holiday market in Oberammergau, Germany.
Several types of sausages are grilled at an outdoor winter holiday market in Germany's Bavaria region.

With rosy cheeks, noses befitting Rudolph, and toes and fingers slowly turning into icicles, we headed home to warm up.

With Oberammergau’s Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) just around the corner, we will continue to usher in the holiday season in the coming days. In the meantime, to combat the cold and deluge of snow we’ve been receiving the past days, we’ll break out our own bottle of Glühwein at home, while toasting to the holidays. If you’d like to make your own Glühwein, do try the recipe that follows.

Cheers & best wishes for a happy holiday season!

Oberammergau's main church on a grey, winter day.
A yellow Advent calendar sits on an evergreen wreath decorated with pinecones at a German Christmas market stand.
A German winter holiday market is overlooked by a traditionally painted house on a grey day.
Cuts of meat hang at a German winter market with the sign "Wie schwer bin ich" or "How heavy am I?"
A man wears a traditional green Bavarian hat decorated with pins.
Semmel, Bavarian bread rolls.
A nativity scene.
Jugs of Glühwein soon to hit revelers’ mugs.

Today, St. Nick stuffed our shoes with German chocolates and oranges. If you celebrate Saint Nicholas Day in your home, what type of goodies did St. Nick leave you or your little ones? Will you be going to any Christmas markets this season?

Finally, if you’re inspired to warm up with a cup of Glühwein, do check out this simple recipe in the BBC’s recipe section.

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • Saint Nicholas is viewed as the model for Santa Claus, and is said to have lived about 1,700 years ago. He was born in what is now present-day Turkey. Saint Nicholas was known for giving gifts, and came to be associated as a protector of sailors and children. Oddly, Saint Nicholas’ remains were uprooted from his homeland about 700 years after his death, and transferred to Bari, Italy. A tomb inside Bari’s Basilica di San Nicola is said to hold most of Saint Nicholas’ remains. Supposedly, this saint’s relics were taken away from their original shrine in Myra and later awarded to the city of Bari. Apparently, both Venice and Bari competed for Saint Nicholas’ remains, since they were of religious and commercial value. 
  • For more about St. Nicholas’ origins, see my Instagram post about the Bari, Italy church that claims to have St. Nicholas’ remains. Today, it’s a popular pilgrimage destination for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians from Russia. When we visited Bari in 2016, we stopped in to learn more.
  • Oberammergau hosts a Christkindlmarkt each winter. The Christkindlmarkt takes place the first Sunday of Advent. Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) are held in other towns in the region. See the Ammergauer Alpen site for specific details.
  • Oberammergau is located 90 km (55 miles) southwest of Munich. To get there by mass transit, research the Bayern Ticket (website is in German, but you can use Google Translate). As of 2021, these tickets start at €25 for one passenger, and cost €8 for each additional passenger. You can use the Bayern Ticket for most trains, trams, and city buses, making it a good deal if you’ll be doing a lot of exploring in one day. You can purchase tickets online, via a ticket machine, or in person.
  • This page indexes all of my posts from Germany.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

35 thoughts on “Celebrating Saint Nicholas Day & Germany’s Christmas Market Season

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed them, Elisa. It means a lot that you took the time to comment.

      Once things slow down here, I’m looking forward to catching up with your happenings. Until then, wishing you a beautiful holiday season!

  1. Tricia I totally enjoyed this German Holiday post! I was traveling with some Germans in South America recently and they told me about the St. Nicholas Day, and the theory that maybe that’s where the “stocking stuffing” came from. Love the pictures! I truly hope to experience a German holiday one of these years in the near future!

    1. Antoinette, thanks for sharing that anecdote with me and making such kind comments. Christmastime is a special period to be here, for sure. I must confess that I need to find some hardier winter weather gear and clothes though, for I turn into an icicle so rapidly when outdoors! Wishing you a splendid holiday season!

  2. Happy St. Nick’s Day! (Czech heritage for me!) St. Nick would leave us a little present at our spot at the dinner table — often times a book. For my boys, St. Nick brings a holiday-themed book typically (as they entered their teen years, it became a bit more challenging – – – it appears he left a I Am Scrooge Zombie Story for Christmas for one, and a David Sedaris holiday book for the other! The holiday markets look so charming — enjoyed all the photos. ~ Kat

    1. Thanks for sharing your family’s tradition, Kat. I love that St. Nick often gifted you with a book, and that he continues to do so today, even with your kids. It seems he feels strongly about literacy. :)

      What part of the Czech Republic does your family hail from? A branch of my family was Austrian, but lived in Bohemia in the 1800s. I love visiting the Czech Republic — Prague and Cesky Krumlov, of course, but also Karlovy Vary. We had a very dear friend who was born outside of Prague in 1900; she was my first piano teacher and instilled in me a love for her homeland.

      1. I have lines from both Slovakia and Bohemia — I have not yet traveled to the Czech Republic but it is definitely on my bucket list (most likely after my boys are through college)! ~ Kat

  3. Tricia – how wonderful to open your post and see these marvelous holiday photographs. They are charming. And of course I love the food photos. You always conjure up magic with your work and at this time of the year It is wonderful to enjoy different customs. Virginia

    1. Virginia, thank you! I have been spending a great deal of time with boxes unpacking, so it’s a wonderful escape to make a post – even if they are infrequent!

      What sort of culinary goodies will you be preparing for the holidays? My mother, husband and I are going to break out the cookbooks soon, and get our menu planned out. It’s been quite fun shopping at the German grocery stores exclusively now, for when I lived in Germany earlier, I must confess that I did a lot of shopping at the American grocery store near my office. I’m learning a lot of new cooking-related vocabulary, particularly as it relates to gluten-free eating too. Look forward to catching up with your happenings soon!

      1. It’s mince pies and shortbread. So very traditional Tricia. So happy to hear from you. Happy Christmas baking to you and your husband, and your Mother. V.

  4. So many lovely Christmas markets these days, Tricia. I’ve only been to the British variety. I didn’t realise that you had German ancestry. Do you still have family living in Germany?

    1. Jo, I’m a bit of a European ‘mutt’, with quite a blend of heritage: Norwegian, German, French, English, etc. We have a very, very distant cousin that we have met here in Germany, and now my parents have retired here. Aside from that, my family is all in the U.S.

      I would love to visit the UK more as my mother’s family hails from Yorkshire. Certainly it must be charming this time of year. What sorts of treats does one find at British Christmas markets?

      1. Lots of handicrafts, hot roast beef/pork in a bun stalls so everywhere smells wonderful, and of course, mulled wine, hot chocolate with Baileys, etc. Pretty similar I imagine. If you find a good idea, latch onto it, huh!

    1. Mille grazie, Alesandro! To combat the cold, we enjoyed a wonderful wedding anniversary dinner last night at a local Italian restaurant. The pizza oven had the charming establishment toasty and warm. Along with the friendly proprietors, it was the perfect escape from the cold!

  5. What a wonderful place. Looks like a storybook!

    I hope you don’t mind if I reblog your link on my reblog page?

    1. Do you have any favorite markets you can recommend? With all the unpacking we’ve been doing, we haven’t had much time to explore them, but in the past some of my favorites were Nürnberg, Rothenburg and Heidelberg’s – plus Strasbourg, France’s thrown in for good measure. :)

    1. For how long did you visit the region? We just met a family from Australia last night.

      It’s really quite magical this time of year, but cold of course. For us, excursions outdoors require quick returns to warmer indoors. I am, however, impressed by the hardiness of many of the locals – they’re out gloveless and hatless! I’m hoping to embrace the winter and do some sports, perhaps trying cross country skiing so that we can better appreciate the countryside dressed in snow.

    1. Mark, ah, but the Glühwein certainly does wonders for warming up. :) More Christmas Markets to come this weekend! Hope you’re enjoying the holiday spirit, wherever your travels have taken you.

  6. Gorgeous, gorgeous! This post reminds me of the winter I spent living in Brussels. Plentiful trips to Bruges at the weekend were always rewarded with markets and gluhwein,

    1. Rachael, I’ve never been in Belgium during the holiday season, but it would be fun to visit a market with a Belgian flair! I’m guessing they must have some delightful holiday waffle concoctions? How fun that you were able to spend a winter in Brussels!

      When we were in Ghent during the springtime last year, we had a delectable dessert of fresh cream and strawberries, along with what we’ve concluded is the best coffee (because it was served with a generous dollop of cream).

  7. Hi Tricia!

    Thank you for being such a great follower of my blog – it’s been a pleasure to get to know you. I wish you all the best in the New Year and to have many more wonderful moments that you can blog about!


    1. Yulia, it’s nice to hear from you again! Indeed, it’s been fun connecting with you this past year. Thanks for enhancing my blogging experience in 2012. I wish you all the best in the coming year – and I’ll look forward to traveling along on your journeys in spirit. :)

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