German Christmas markets help Texans connect to heritage

Collyn Burke

It’s December, but visitors at this German market are wearing neither coats nor mittens. Visitors at Austin’s annual German Christmas market don T-shirts and flip-flops as they wander through booths sipping both iced tea and mulled wine.

“Usually when you go to a German Christmas market, you’re bundled up (and) you’re drinking lots of Gluehwein, which is like hot, spiced wine to warm you up, cause you’re cold,” said Christopher Markley, director of operations for the German-Texan Heritage Society. “Here in Texas, we get where it’s either gonna be cold, or it’s gonna be 80 degrees, and you’re gonna be in flip flops.”

The Christkindlmarkt, a beloved German tradition that dates back centuries, has been adapted in Texas, which has one of the largest and richest German communities in the country, with nearly 7 percent of the Texas population speaking German. Markets have popped up in Fredericksburg, New Braunfels and Austin. One of the biggest differences between Christmas markets in Germany and Christmas markets in Texas, Markley said, is the weather. He said this may have contributed to the 3,000 people who attended their own Christmas market on Dec. 2.

Although Christmas markets in Germany can sometimes span the entirety of the city with various themes and vendors, the society’s Christmas market is restricted within the walls of their compound on the corner of Red River and East 10th Street. 

“You have the religious corner, and then you have one that’s just focused on pyramids, or music and art focused Christmas markets,” Markley said. 

Markley said their Christmas market, which has been open for nearly 25 years, may differ from their German counterparts, but the society strives to maintain the traditions passed down by their members.

“While here we import all the items from Germany and sell food and German items,” Markley said, “we still try and hold the traditions in our society that a lot of our members who are from Germany talk about or their parents would talk about.” 

The society’s Christmas market has seen increased interest in the past few years, growing from a small affair to having lines out the door. James Kearney, Germanic studies lecturer, believes people’s desire to connect with their heritage is the reason for the attendance, which he said has increased over the past several years. 

“People feel that Germans have remained true to the spirit of Christmas,” Kearney said. “(The Christmas markets are) an attempt to recreate in Texas what is in Germany.”

Kearney said these markets can also be a good chance for people to connect with their heritage, as many of the original Texas Germans left a rich heritage for their descendants.

“There is a renewed interest in heritage,” Kearney said. “In Texas, we have examples of cultural persistence in the German community, people hanging on to what was good in their culture while embracing the new.”

Steven Bartels, Middle Eastern studies graduate student, said the markets aren’t only for people of German descent, but can be entertaining for people from all around Central Texas looking to gain insight on German traditions and foods such as Christmas stollen, a bread with candied fruits, nuts and spices, and Saint Nicholas Day, a day of celebration for the Santa Claus figure, Saint Nicholas.

“I think the opportunity for people living in Central Texas to encounter that same atmosphere is a good thing,” Bartels said.