December is finally here. The most wonderful time of the year. Christmas lights, decorations, short days and cozy afternoons by the fireplace. Even here in Japan, where Christmas is actually not celebrated as a holiday, do we have the chance to experience the flair of this great season. Many stores and streets are decorated with lights and display Christmas trees. Coffee houses serve gingerbread and pumpkin spiced drinks and turn the heaters up.
Fukuoka Tower in Christmas Tree Illumination
Photo: Yuichi Sakuraba on Flickr
As a European, I still miss one thing though – the traditional German Christmas market (Weihnachtsmarkt)! Those street markets are famous all around the world and originated in Germany. Their history goes back to the Late Middle Ages in the German-speaking part of Europe and in many eastern regions like France and Switzerland. Up to this day in Germany, the Advent is usually ushered with the opening Christmas markets in the local towns. Booths and open stalls are set up in pedestrian zones and town squares where food, drinks and seasonal items are sold to celebrate the weeks before Christmas. Traditional dancing and singing, along with little theatre plays help to bring along the Christmas spirit.
Photo: zaimoku_woodpile on Flickr
I grew up with these Christmas markets and visited them every year, making dear memories with families and friends. Since I live in Japan, I haven't been back home for Christmas in six years and didn't expect to find a Christmas market here in Asia. I was surprised when I was in Fukuoka last year and found a German Christmas market right downtown by Hakata station. A real authentic German Christmas market! It reminded me of back home as I was strolling down the decorated street, seeing the traditional booths with German writings on them, hearing foreigners speak German and sell German delicacies and ornaments. I researched the Christmas market and found that Hakata Station again hosts the Weihnachtsmarkt this year.
If you have the chance to visit Fukuoka during December, let me tell you a bit about this market and what you can expect. The booths are set up in 'Hikari no Machi', right in front of the JR Hakata station in Hakata, Fukuoka, and open from the 18th of November until the 25th of December. You can enjoy the European foods and goods weekdays from 17- 23 o'clock and on the weekends from 12- 23 o'clock. This is the 3rd year in a row that Hakata has hosted this market and allows 22 stores to set up their booths for the public in the illuminated square. Along with the booths you can come and enjoy events, performances from Japanese and international artists and good company in the center of the market.
This year you can experience candle booths, glass shops, coffee stalls, spice stores, German 'imbiss grills', spiced wine stands, bakeries, hot-dog and soup counters, steak and risotto restaurants and gift shops. If you are interested in German and European culture, there are plenty of Germans around and German guests who love to explain to you the traditions of the Middle Europe region.
Here are two foods and drinks you should definitely try if you have the chance to visit the market:
Stollen & Hot Wine (Glühwein)
Glühwein is also known as mulled wine and can be enjoyed with or without alcohol. The spiced wine keeps warm and tastes great. Stollen (a traditional German sugar-covered bread made with dried fruits and marzipan) is also sold at the Stollen & Wine booth and can be enjoyed with the spiced wine.
Butcher of the World
This stall sells different styles of meat and fries from all around the world. For example, Belgian style potatoes and Spanish ham. You can even try authentic German sausages and fries.
There are also other great booths that sell Christmas ornaments, snow globes and festive decorated candle holders that give your home that special Christmas flair, especially when you cannot squeeze a giant Christmas tree into your Japanese apartment.
If you don't want to spend money at the Christmas market, just go and enjoy the Christmas lights, the performances and the Christmas atmosphere. What a wonderful way to celebrate this season!