How to Create Your Own Christmas Market

German Christmas markets are one of a kind. They feature unique architecture in the form of Christmas huts, the Christmas pyramid, lighted arches (Lichterbogen), some historic buildings as a backdrop (like the city hall, stores and even churches), murals, a giant Christmas tree and a stage for performances.  The theme of the Christmas markets depend on the planning by local governments and residents, although most Christmas markets follow the models presented by the ones in Nuremberg and Dresden.


Yet despite large cities in Germany (and parts of Europe) and the US having the Christmas markets going on during the Advent period, the question that many smaller towns and villages have is can a person create a Christmas market in their community?  When looking at the German-named villages in Minnesota alone, not one of them exists. Not even in New Ulm, which is the most German of these communities.  Yet New Ulm’s population, topography and size is comparable to the Christmas market I visited in Glauchau (Saxony), which justifies the need for a Christmas market to complement the German businesses that exist in the town of 14,000 inhabitants, such as Schell’s Brewery, Veigel’s Kaiserhoff and Domeier’s German Store.

Then again, when looking at a village like Heilsberg in Thuringia, which is only a fraction of the population size of Glauchau and New Ulm, one can see that it is possible to have a Christmas market, if members of the community are willing to cooperate and sell typical items while using the money collected for a good purpose.


Located 13 kilometers north of Rudostadt and 25 kilometers east of Stadtilm in the Thuringian Forest, Heilsberg has only 200 inhabitants and has belonged to the community cluster of Remda-Teichel since 1997. However, its existence dates back to the 820s AD, when the city was first mentioned in the record books. The lone attraction of Heilsberg is the St. Boniface’s Church, which was built in 1718, with extensions in 1764. Despite thorough renovations during the 1990s, the church still holds service for the congregation, most of whom are from the village.


Since 2011, the village has hosted the Christmas Market, which is held on one Saturday during the holiday season. From three in the afternoon until ten at night, residents of the town, including family members and guests would gather, drink a spiced wine, try a local, family specialty and listen to carols from the church choir. The set-up of the market is rather simple, especially when everyone helps. The venue of the Christmas market is usually the bus stop, which consists of a loop-like parking lot that is not only enough for busses and cars to park but also for adding a half dozen huts, a stage and some entertainment.

The arrangement of the Christmas market is very simple: On the morning of the market, a team of volunteers would arrange the market, where the bus stop is converted into a combination of a stage for performances and a bar which sells spiced wine (Glühwein) and mead (Heisser Met). Next to the bus stop (on the right for this year’s market) would be the Christmas tree, consisting of a pine tree cut down in the nearby forest and hauled into the village, a day or two before. In the middle of the bus stop in front of the tree and stage would be the fire pits, where wood and charcoal are burned in steel barrels and people can warm-up in the evening. Next to them are the picnic areas, where people can sit, eat and converse. And surrounding them and the fire pits are the booths, where eateries and goods are sold.  Arranging them in a horseshoe format, a total of eight booths were arranged, each of which were built from scratch or improvised out of trailers and/or parts of trucks. Each of them is equipped with electricity which is provided through generators and extension cords from nearby houses.  The lone exception is a ninth booth, which is the blacksmith. His is located behind the picnic area opposite the stage and Christmas tree and is also equipped with two fire pits of his own- one of which is of course for the metalwork, making swords, shields, necklaces and figures out of steel.

But the production of metal goods is not the only homemade items one can find in a local Christmas market. Each booth has its own set of products to sell, but it has to be agreed upon between the coordinator and the rest of the community that is involved in setting up the market to avoid any overlapping and competition.   Apart from the booth selling hot drinks, there is one that sells meat products- namely bratwursts, steaks, kabobs and burgers. Another one sells homemade Eierlikör (in English, Advocaat) with original, chocolate and chili flavors. Another booth sells Bratapfel (baked apples with or without stuffing), again homemade and available with almond paste, chocolate, cookie and nuts, as well as with spices. The same applies to another booth that sells Christmas cookies and other candies. There is a booth that sells potatoes in a form of baked, fried in chips or fried French style- homemade and served with mustard, ketchup or even mayonaise. There is one that sells fish products- raw, baked, pulled (like Flammlachs) or smoked. Then there are two booths- one selling used goods and one selling handcrafted items, such as windlights made of glass bottles. There is one selling crepes, which is the French version of pancakes, and lastly, the market is not complete without a booth selling beer and other beverages. In Heilsberg’s case, there was no handcrafted beer, yet with this hobby becoming the norm in American households, one should put that into consideration if the beer crafted in the past has been embraced by those who enjoy a mug or two. Products are sold at a relatively affordable price, and proceeds go to the cause of choice.  While in the case of Heilsberg, the money collected goes to their church for the renovation of the church bell (which is expected to be completed by the end of next year), other Christmas markets in nearby villages have donated money to charity helping the children in need, school or church programs that foster the child’s growth, local sports teams for new equipment. In one case, a nearby village collects money for a children’s hospice care facility in the north of Thuringia in Nordhausen, located west of Leipzig.

And while markets like the one in Glauchau feature a pair of modern pyramids, an Adventskalendar, an ice skating rink, some lighted arches (Lichterbogen) for sale or decoration pending on the size and preference, and Räuchermänner, they are not really a necessity if one compensates these with musical performances from local groups. In the case of Heilsberg, a local church choir singing carols is enough because of its population size. Even a little Christmas comedy and story-telling about the birth of Jesus and miracles at Christmas time are enough to bring in crowds from both inside as well as from surrounding areas.  This is what makes a local Christmas market like this one really special. 🙂 Just don’t forget to invite Santa Claus. 😉

After all the drinking, eating, singing and conversing, the market is taken down the next morning, most likely after the church service, with the Christmas tree being taken to the church for use during the Christmas masses on Christmas Eve and the 1st Day of Christmas. In Germany, we have three days of Christmas from the 24th to the 26th, in comparison to only two in many countries like America. The tree remains there until the Day of Epiphany, when it is taken down. As for the booths, they are converted back to their original uses, the leftovers eaten up or given away to the poor, the unsold goods donated, and the ideas back to the drawing table to see how they can better the market for this time next year.

The advocaat stand, selling homemade liquor

As small as the Christmas market is in Heilsberg, a day for a few hours will do. However the bigger the community the more likely it is necessary to extend the market by a day, another weekend or even more. It depends on how seriously a community takes its Christmas markets. As mentioned in my column about my last Christmas market in Glauchau, as big as the city is and with as much history as it has (read more about it here), one Advent weekend is not enough, especially because of its predominance of Lutheranism. But there may be some reasons behind that. Werdau, located 10 kilometers west of Glauchau, has a three-hour Christmas market that takes place on one Sunday and that’s it. Too short to German standards, but one that best attracts people to this community of 18,000. Having a Christmas market takes a lot of planning, which includes where to have the venue, when to host it, who is ready to sell goods, how many people will come and esp. what will the money collected from the sales be used for. That alone is the core of the market.


While only a few Christmas markets can be found in the US- namely in large cities, like Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Atlanta, as well as areas strong in German heritage, such as in Wisconsin and Ohio, plus Amana Colonies in Iowa, it doesn’t mean it is impossible to host one in your community. Especially in the German-named villages, like the ones in Minnesota, people will profit from having one, even if it is on a weekend. All it takes is looking at this success story of Heilsberg, look at the recipes for the products typically sold at the markets below, collaborate as to where to have it- be it in the business district, at a park or church, put some booths together, and make it as typically European as possible. With the last one, one might want to look to German communities as references- not necessarily Nuremberg or Dresden, but others that have held these markets for many years in smaller communities to collect some ideas before starting this adventure. There are enough examples to go around, especially when looking at the markets visited and profiled by the Files since 2010. Then it is off to the races.


Can you imagine a market in front of a church or at a bar and grill restaurant in Bergen? Or what about Marktplatz in New Ulm? In front of the Catholic Church overlooking the lake in Fulda would be a traditional smash hit. Or at a ski resort near Luxembourg, in front of Heimey’s Bar and Grill in New Germany, in the parking lot of Flensburg’s Bar and Grill- all one hot spots.  Add this to New Trier’s Snow Days and that would really attract a crowd. But then again, other non-German named communities should try the concept as well. All is possible. It’s just a matter of interest, planning and making it happen.


Here are some recipes worth trying:

Glühwein (Spiced Wine)

Mead (Heisse Met)

Advocaat (Eierlikör)

Hot Granny (Heisse Oma)

Dresdner Landbrot


Homemade Bratwurst


Roasted Nuts

Dresdner Stollen


All photos and the map are courtesy of Michael Fox, who also provided some information on the Christmas market in Heilsberg. A special thanks for his work and the homemade advocaat that will be tasted over Christmas.  A guide on the Christmas markets including the ones visited this year (so far) is available here. It also has a list of German-named villages in Minnesota worth visiting.


Genre of the Week: The Christmas I Remember Best by Eda Leshan

We all have our own interpretations of Christmas and what is important to us. Many people think that the best kind of gifts are the ones that are modern, with a lot of technical features and which we can toy around with for hours on end. There are many though that prefer something personal, or local if the loved one is away most of the time. I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of that lately as I travel to see some Christmas markets and other places and as a rule, buy something local or handmade which will never be found in any shopping mall elsewhere. 😉 However what happens if you wish for something very badly, like an exclusive doll house or baby carriage found in a Sears magazine,  only to find that upon opening the gift on Christmas Day you find a generic version, or something much different than you expected. How would you react?  Keep in mind that the reactions of the parents or loved one definitely plays a role, for they have their intentions and logic behind giving you the gift that is different. Nine times out of ten, as we will see in an article by Eda LeShan (* 1922- t 2002), the reason is simple: We don’t have the money to get you this, but we love you very much and want you to have the best Christmas ever.  🙂

LeShan was a writer, TV show host, educator and counselor who wrote several books about childhood development and psychology during her 79 years of life. An advocate of children’s rights, LeShan believed that the person’s true character is not only based on the education that is given during childhood but also based on growing up in a healthy family and in livable environmental surroundings. Her piece “The Christmas I Remember Best,” published in December 1982, takes her back to the time of the Great Depression and her parents’ desire to make Christmas the most enjoyable for her. This is despite the fact that both her parents lost their jobs because of the Great Crash of 1929, which sparked the worst crisis in American history, ending with America’s entry into World War II, 12 years later.

The one-page piece sends a clear message to all parents- there’s nothing more powerful than love and family. All other things are just that- things that are replaceable. The former, not. Here’s something to think about as you read this piece:

The work was discovered during a trip to Lanesboro in Minnesota in 2005 and I’ve used it for English classes ever since. It is very useful for discussion or for any activities pertaining to English as a Foreign Language or even Literature.

Another piece bearing the same title was discovered by accident upon research for this work. This one was written by Sherilyn Clarke Stinson in 2011 and can be found in the website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. A link to that piece is available here as well as the Files’ facebook page.



2016 Christmas Market Tour: Freiberg (Saxony)


The next Christmas market to visit on this year’s tour takes us to the far eastern part of Germany. Specifically, what we are talking about is the city of Freiberg in Saxony. Located between Chemnitz and Dresden in the eastern part of the state, Freiberg is located in the top half of the Erzgebirge (translated freely as Ore Mountains), one can feel the ascension to the top while travelling by train or car. But when arriving in the city, one sees a maze of streets and historic buildings, where if one finds a way to go down hill, fighting curves and cars, one will reach the market square- Obermarkt. This is the stage of the Christmas market, where the city hall serves as a backdrop and the statue of Otto the Great is surrounded by 90 different huts, a stage, one of the tallest moving Christmas pyramids in the region and lastly, one of the tallest Christmas trees in the mountain region. Since 1989, the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Christmas market has been held here, which is ironic for most of the products a person will find at a German Christmas market come from the mountain which had once been part of East Germany and the socialist regime. This brought a question to mind: what was Christmas like during that period between the end of World War II and German Reunification, especially as the western half quickly reestablished its tradition? This would require some research which will surely mean some history lessons in the Files in the near future. 🙂


And as Freiberg is located directly in the Erzgebirge, everything a person will see is clearly in connection with this theme: Gabled housing with several shades of brown and mahogany, statues of miners as well as chisels and lanterns, wooden products made locally such as pyramids, Räuchermänner, Lichterbogen (Christmas arches) and other Christmas decorations, local drinks including spiced wine and punch, and local eateries including Stollen and Pulsnitzer Kuchen (a fruitcake with cherries and almonds). In other words, simply Erzgebirgisch!


To read further, please go to the wordpress version of the Files by clicking here. Thank you! 

Flensburg Files Holiday Moments: A Boy With PANDAS


During the holiday season, The Flensburg Files has been posting some memorable holiday moments on its facebook page, as a way of showing holiday spirit, as well as the true meaning of Christmas, which is showing how much we love and care about the other person(s)- family, friend or neighbor alike. This article in the series hits home for the author, as a close friend and former classmate, who also sang together in a barbershop quartet in high school, and his family are facing a rare enemy that is affecting one of their own. This is their story…..

When one thinks of a panda, we look at the furry black and white bear, who live in Asia and feast on bamboos, shoots and leaves. In fact, Lynne Truss started her book on the use of commas and punctuations with this anecdote:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

“Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“Well, I’m a panda,” he says. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.

Jamison Nestegard is nine years old and the youngest of three children belonging to the parents, Sid and Rebecca.

Jamison has P.A.N.D.A.S, but not the furry bears that you can keep as pets- especially in a town, like Jackson, Minnesota, which has its really cold and snowy winters. P.A.N.D.A.S love warm and humid regions.  The P.A.N.D.A.S we’re talking about here is a serious disorder that starts with a physical illness in a form of strep bacteria and later affects the nervous system.

The full meaning of P.A.N.D.A.S is Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococci. It was discovered by  Dr. Susan Swedo, Dr. Henrietta Leonard, and Dr. Judith Rapoport in the 1990s and is characterized by the body’s own antibodies to streptococci which attack the basal ganglion cells of the brain. In short, the body’s own autoimmune system cannot respond to strep bacteria resulting in its build-up in the brain, causing several psychological abnormalities, such as obessive compulsive disorder (short, OCD), tics, anxiety, enuresis or urinary frequency, sleep disorders, behavioral regression, aggressiveness, hyperactivity, hallucinations, eating disorders, wide pupils, increased sensory responses, deterioration of fine motor skills, short term memory loss, and gastro-intestinal complaints.  Patients with P.A.N.D.A.S have at least 75% of these symptoms, yet research revealed that most patients with P.A.N.D.A.S have all of the above-mentioned symptoms.  Symptoms usually begin between the ages of 5-7, but can begin as early as 3 years of age, yet as the bacteria builds in the brain, the symptoms progress over time. According to the P.A.N.D.A.S Network, the disorder affects one in every 200 children in the US alone.

According to Rebecca in an interview with the Files, Jamison’s symptoms started at the age of six and started from there. “Jamison’s case started with tics and progressed from there.” She added “His symptoms dramatically increased over the next few months.  His latest list of symptoms include tics, OCD, anxiety, sleep disorders, wide pupils, increased sensory responses, deterioration of fine motor skills, short term memory loss, aggressiveness, gastro-intestinal complaints, and behavioral regressions (severe separation anxiety, baby talk, etc.).”  After visits to countless physicians and specialists in the last two years, Jamison was diagnosed with P.A.N.D.A.S last month. Yet the discovery of the disorder came by chance. The reason: “We saw behavioral therapists, counselors, pediatricians, neurologists, psychiatrists, and occupational therapists. He was seen in offices, E.R.s, extensive outpatient programs, and even hospitalized. No one had an answer or offered a direction to go in.”  The discovery of P.A.N.D.A.S came through an employee working for the county human services via colleague who had received an e-mail about this debilitating disorder. After reading the information, it was revealed that Jamison had all but one of the symptoms of P.A.N.D.A.S. Research later led to a specialist in Chicago, who, after a visit, confirmed the diagnosis after undergoing tests for the disorder. Miroslav Kovacevic, MD FAAP is the practitioner who has been working with the disorder for almost half of the 40+ year career and has received numerous accolades for his research and discoveries. His research has identified the symptoms and possible causes of P.A.N.D.A.S, as well as possible treatments.

Currently, Jamison is undergoing treatment for P.A.N.D.A.S with his mother at his side in Chicago, while her husband Sid and the rest of the family are working on a fundraiser and have already set up a fund to collect money for the treatment. According to Rebecca, for one treatment alone, it costs $13,000! P.A.N.D.A.S is a relatively new disorder but one full of controversy as many specialists in the fields of medicine refuse to recognize the disorder. Health care providers in Minnesota and the region have never heard of P.A.N.D.A.S. Even insurance companies will not cover the costs of any of the treatment. This includes that of the Nestegard family.

Fortunately, the family is not alone. As tightly knit as the community of Jackson is, let alone the southern half of Minnesota where the author was born and raised, friends and family members as well as those who have a direct connection with P.A.N.D.A.S have come together to understand the disorder, address it to the public and give Sid and Rebecca some much-needed support so that they can help Jamison overcome the disorder. With the identification of the disorder already confirmed, the goal is for the public to understand the gravity of P.A.N.D.A.S and encourage parents, whose child has symptoms similar to Jamison’s, to come forward and share their stories and provide them with whatever treatment is available, no matter where or how.

Already in place are a few groups that advocate for the diagnosis and treatment of P.A.N.D.A.S. They include the P.A.N.D.A.S. Parent Support group, P.A.N.D.A.S. Network, and  Parents/Caregivers of Children With P.A.N.D.A.S. All of these groups are from the Chicago area.  A Midwest P.A.N.D.A.S. Conference was launched in 2015 at the Washington University in St. Louis, where parents, caregivers and physicians convene to share ideas and information on the symptoms and causes of this rare disorder. Other P.A.N.D.A.S groups exist in the US but only rarely, according to information in the interview. In Europe, there exists no such organization to date, nor has it been confirmed as a disorder or even disease by the World Health Organization.  Because of its rarity, the plan is to bring Jamison’s experience to the forefront to provide awareness and options available. “The more attention we draw to the disorder the more likely we are to pass through legislation providing insurance coverage for patients and support for their families,” Rebecca stated in the interview.  Already launched is a blog bearing the same name, she has been keeping a diary with information and hardships dealing with Jamison and his fight with P.A.N.D.A.S. A link to the blog can be found here. Letter campaigns to schools, pediatricians and legislature will follow. Blood drives are being considered as “….the treatment uses IV immunoglobulin (IV), which is made from plasma through blood donations,” Rebecca states. With Jamison as an ambassador, it is hoped that with each drive and speech, the attention pertaining to P.A.N.D.A.S will come to the forefront also through the media outlets, including TVshows and documentaries and even social media.

As for Jamison’s cause, a fund-raiser is being established for him, which is scheduled to take place on:

18th December, 2016 at Riverside Elementary in Jackson, Minnesota from 9:30-12:30 (map enclosed here)

In addition, a fund has been set up where you can donate money and resources to help with the expenses with P.A.N.D.A.S. You can donate your money to Bank Midwest. The address: 509 3rd St, P.O. Box 49, Jackson Minnesota, 56143 Please make your checks payable to The Jamison Nestegard Benefit Fund.

A GoFund Me account has also been set up to help pay for the expenses involved with the treatment and other costs associated with it. To donate, you can click here.

Family is the core of one’s life, the source where the individual grows up with love. When threatened by such a debilitating disorder, like P.A.N.D.A.S, the family finds the causes and treatment, so that the individual can have a fulfilling life, no matter what the cost or the distance. When there is a will to live, there is a way to have a fulfilling life. With Jamison living a life as he is living- with close family and friends, Sid and Rebecca, as well as the rest of the family and friends are doing all what they can to ensure that he can live to tell others of his experiences. And this is an example of how we should devote our time for our loved ones, especially for the holidays.

An excerpt of the diary of Jamison’s experience with P.A.N.D.A.S can be found in the wordpress version of the Files, which you can access here and subscribe to follow. It is also hoped that when read on the opposite side of the Atlantic that many Europeans and people in other regions are willing to step forward to help.


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Genre of the Week: The Man Who Hated Christmas by Nancy Gavin


What comes to mind when you think of Christmas? The tree? The market? Santa Claus? Presents? What aspect of Christmas do you like the most? For me, Christmas is about donating time, money and energy for a cause that is deep in the heart and one that has an everlasting effect on the community, whether it is helping out at the church on a Sunday, doing a fundraiser to help find a cure for cancer, working in a homeless shelter or even singing for money to be donated to a worthy cause. All of these we have done over the holidays because we know what it is like to either have witnessed certain events in our lives or know someone who has experienced hardships. Christmas is more about what you and heart and soul can do for others in the community and not about shopping for the largest gifts.

This is the central theme of this Genre of the Week entitled The Man Who Hated Christmas by Nancy Gavin. Originally published in the Women’s Day Magazine in December 1982, the story was based on the concept of the White Envelope in the Christmas tree, where as a gift to the family, one member donates her time, money and energy in donating to the right cause. The result was turning a sad face of a man who disliked Christmas because of the materialism involved into one who turned up the corners- way up- and hence, the project was launched, which has been going strong ever since. Gavin died two years after the story was published, but the white envelope tradition continues to this day. You can learn more about it by clicking here.  A youtube version of the story is here for you to learn why Christmas is important in ways that make that next computer, flatscreen TV and robot look like a thing to be left on the shelf. Listen to the story and then go out and do something for the community, not just this holiday season but also beyond. Enjoy! 🙂