Sunday, 16 December 2007

Christmas markets

Traditional Christmas markets on the main squares of the Czech Republic’s towns and cites are something to look forward to every year. After the warmth and glimmer of the golden autumn sunshine, November is a drab, grey and depressing month. But when December rolls around, the Christmas markets explode in a burst of colour, music and energy, and bring everybody out to forget about the grey skies and enjoy the festive season. And the punch.

The punch is a staple of every Christmas market I’ve been to, every second stall will have a cauldron of it bubbling away and a crowd of ruddy faced revellers getting ruddier by the sip between puffs of frosty breath. You’ll find Irish punch (with whisky), French punch, Viennese punch, Finnish punch and English punch, with the bar staff in their approximation of national dress. You can also go for the old standard mulled wine, warmed and spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and sugar.

There’s always plenty of food on offer. Most of the stands offer typical old fashioned hotdogs (parek v rohliku), langoš (a Hungarian deep fried batter with your choice of toppings, sweet or savoury), corn on the cob, or roasted chestnuts. There can also be a big barbeque area with spit-roasted pork and a range of thick and spicy sausages (klobasa). More progressive markets might even offer things like crepes with your choice of toppings or hot chocolate spiced with chilli, ginger or orange. In Moravia you’ll find traditional pastries like Štramberk Ears or Wallachian Frgal (a delicious and relatively healthy pizza-shaped fruit pie, eaten by the eighth or quarter).

Markets being markets, you can also buy stuff. Most markets will offer wintery gifts like socks, slippers, sheepskin coats, some will have traditional craftwork like woven baskets and straw figures, works of embroidery or weaving, and you might even see a blacksmith knocking out bells, candelabra and decorative door handles beside a portable forge. Christmas necessities are also catered for-you should able to pick up some smoked meats, your Christmas tree and when the big day gets closer, a fresh carp or two.

When you’ve shopped and enjoyed a drink what else is there to do? Well, the better markets also have a program of entertainment. Everyone from popular bands that have been playing for 20 years to school groups cobbled together weeks ago has their chance on stage. Carousels, horse-rides, and craft workshops for the kids are part of any good Christmas market.

So if you’re travelling the Czech Republic (and Central Europe) at this time of year, there’s no need to worry that you’ll run out things to do because all the castles and tourist attractions have closed up for the winter. Just pull on your warmest clothes and get down to your nearest main square to join in the festivities with the locals.

Just make sure you can find your way home after all that punch!

1 comment:

Jo said...

Wish that I was there! Oooh, Punch! Yum!