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Of Glühwein and Christmas Markets


Although you could be forgiven for thinking it is still far away based on the unseasonably mild weather, it is just about time for the Christmas markets to open again in Vienna. Over the years the size and number of markets have grown to the point where it is almost impossible to walk through any central areas of the city without encountering at least one glühwein stand along the way. But what is the history of these markets in Vienna? Some claim that Christmas markets have existed here for over 600 years, going back to the markets that were held at the end of November after the renewal of the market laws in 1382. While it is true that markets were held during this time, in particular in the 14 days before and after the day of St. Kathrein on November 25th, these markets had nothing to do with Christmas.

So while there is no evidence of Christmas markets in Vienna during the Middle Ages, the actual date when the first Christmas market was held is also unclear. The first obvious mention comes from a market held in the Freyung in 1722, which was called the St. Nick, Christmas, and Nativity market. So while many people consider the Rathaus Christmas market to be the most classical, the earliest documentation of a dedicated Christmas market actually comes from the Freyung. However, it wasn’t meant to last: since the Freyung was also home to a regular market, the Christmas market generated conflicts between the various stand owners and by the 1840s the Christmas market had been forced to relocate to Am Hof, which is where it remained.

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