In Saxony, Christmas is like a fifth season. Come the end of November, German Christmas markets pop up all across the region. As there are so many picturesque historic towns, you can imagine the scene is perfectly set for “glühweining” and roast sausage eating against the backdrop of beautiful architecture.
However, it is not just the Christmas markets, including Germany’s oldest in Dresden, but also all the unique festive traditions and customs born in Saxony that make the region a Christmas wonderland.
Dresden’s famous Striezelmarkt goes back to the 15th century and is very much connected to what is, for many, the most important Christmas tradition of all: Christstollen – stollen, German Christmas cake, whatever you want to call it.
This seasonal bake has been sold and eaten there since about 1500 and to this day, the Stollenfest as part of Striezelmarkt celebrates this signature treat by parading a giant version of it through the city.
It’s quite a sight and makes very clear that stollen is not just a piece of cake in its city of origin.
Only Dresdner Christstollen, registered as a trademark, can claim to be the original version, which can be traced back to around 1400. Made by hand, it does not contain any margarine, artificial preservatives and flavourings.
To receive the so-called „Stollen seal“, the product must contain ingredients specified by the Stollen Protection Association (yes, that’s a thing!), including rum-soaked raisins, butter, sweet and bitter almonds, candied orange peel and candied lemon peel.
At the same time, every stollen produced by about 110 bakeries in Dresden has its own distinctive taste. This is due to individual spice mixtures used, whose recipes are closely guarded and passed down from one generation to the next.
Tip: Take a Dresden Stollen tour featuring a bakery and Stollen Museum visit, tasting included. And don’t miss browsing the many smaller Christmas markets in town, alongside their “big brother” on the Altmarkt square. These include a very atmospheric medieval version in the Stallhof courtyard!
If Dresden, together with Leipzig and Chemnitz, are Saxony’s urban Christmas market hotspots, the Ore Mountains are an entire area dedicated to the festive spirit. They are a must for travellers on the Christmas trail.
The former mining region has a long tradition of wood turning and wood carving, including very specific and unique items that have become much loved Christmas decorations. Handmade wooden pyramids, candle arches, incense figures, angles and nutcrackers decorate the houses in the Ore Mountains. They have, in fact, become collector’s items around the world.
The local handicraft also features prominently at the region’s Christmas markets which are among the most atmospheric in Germany.
With their historic houses and quaint look, Ore Mountains villages such as Annaberg-Buchholz or Freiberg seem to have been made for Christmas markets. In the run-up to Christmas they become a hub for festive socialising.
What sets them apart from the usual conglomeration of food and drink stands is their unique cultural authenticity. They are deeply rooted in their locality and visitors will get a real sense of the Ore Mountains, the people who live there and their traditions.
Not only can you buy the handmade wooden goods at the makers’ Christmas market stalls. Be prepared for an all-round Ore Mountains experience.
You'll find giant versions of the typical wooden Christmas pyramids or nutcrackers adorning the markets and witness some very special festive traditions that are closely related to the towns’ mining past, such as impressive miners’ parades.
And there’s more: Curious foodies should tuck into “Neunerlei”, or “Neinerla” in Saxon dialect, the Ore Mountains Christmas meal and a wonderful example for food symbolism.
Traditionally prepared on 24 December, it consists of nine specific elements, which is reflected in the name (“neun” = “nine”), and each of the ingredients carries meaning with a view to the new year ahead.
The composition of the menu varies from village to village and from family to family. Some stables are, for example, goose, turkey or rabbit meat, said to bring luck and strength, lentils for physical growth and beetroot for beauty.
Restaurants in the Ore Mountains serve it throughout the festive season, so plenty of options to give it a try! By the way, should you not make it to the Ore Mountains itself, the Christmas market in Chemnitz, as the urban gateway to the region, is a great way of still experiencing the special customs.
There are numerous stalls selling traditional Ore Mountains handicraft, not to mention the twelve-metre-high, five-storey Christmas pyramid and five-metre-high candle arch as proud Ore Mountains landmarks.
For yet another deep dive into what makes Christmas so special in Saxony, head to the region’s east and Upper Lusatia. Here, in the small town of Herrnhut, an intricately folded Christmas star version has been produced by a local manufacturer for more than 160 years.
The Herrnhuter Stern, known as “Moravian Star“ in English, comes in 3D and has a 25-point form. Handmade with paper and cardboard, it has become so popular over the years that it now shines brightly all around the world during the festive season.
For a look behind the scenes, visit Herrnhut’s show workshop to see how it’s done - and you can even try making your own Moravian Star!
Only half an hour further east, Germany’s easternmost town of Görlitz puts on a “Silesian Christmas Market”. It's a reminder of the time when the city belonged to Silesia, once German and now a Polish region.
Between magnificent merchants’ houses from the Renaissance and Baroque, almost 100 stalls offer artisan goods. These are accompanied by the scents of spices, almonds and incense and the tunes of old Christmas songs from Silesia and Bohemia.
And should you be in town for the opening of the “Silesian Christmas Market”, you’ll witness yet another special tradition. The Christ Child – in German culture the Christmas gift bringer – “appears” to the sound of the bells of the city’s splendid St. Peter and Paul Church.
So, is Saxony home to the best Christmas markets in Germany? See for yourself. They certainly come as part of an all-round Christmas package like no other, full of magical moments and memory-making occasions.
Find more information on Saxony’s Christmas Wonderland.
This article is brought to you in partnership with Visit Saxony.