SWISS CHRISTMAS MARKETS RULE!
Christmas markets are a mostly Germanic and eastern European tradition and even the traditional Christmas tree was not a Dickensian invention but introduced into England by Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria. The German prince hankered for his childhood Christmas tree decorated by him and brother Prince Ernst and recreated one for his children in England.
In 1848 The London Illustrated News published pictures of the Royal Family in Windsor Castle next to their gaily decorated tree. The aristocracy and middle classes were enamoured and quickly emulated this new fangled custom. This was followed by the novel notion of gift giving to children and exchanging presents between adults.
Hence none is surprised when the world acclaimed Zurich Christmas market is dominated by the world’s biggest Swarovski Christmas tree towering over 16 metres.
Installed inside Zurich’s Main Railway Station, it glitters, glows and gleams with some 5,000 to 6,000 Swarovski crystal ornaments, depending on who you ask--- even the Zurich Tourist Board gives conflicting numbers but who is counting?
I could hardly see the tree for the decorations which are entirely in white and Swarovski wasted no time in flaunting their expertise. Showcases encircle the tree, filled with expensive and unique examples of works of art seemingly geared at the Chinese market---golden, coiling dragon, pair of leaping auspicious carps, running tiger and rearing horse in honour of 2014 Year of the Horse. Should the urge to buy them overwhelm you, the Swarovski shop is conveniently located just across the street!
Zurich’s Christmas market, now into its 20th year inside the cavernous hall of Hofbahnhof aka Main Railway Station is the world’s biggest indoor market with a carnival, festive atmosphere plus sensational scents of mulled wine, gingerbread and steaming chocolate.
Over 150 stalls (they call them ‘chalets’, so cute) fill the hall, brimming with the usual chocolate, candy, toys, glass ornaments, dresses, shoes, bags, accessories, jewellery, household/kitchen utensils, handmade candles, baked goodies and the obligatory mulled wine to fortify against the cold and wind outside.
I saw some rustic Nativity scenes made of wood and bits and pieces but no elaborate, lavishly embellished figurines of Virgin Mary, Jesus, angels, cherubs or carved religious icons. Then I remembered Zurich (as well as Geneva, Berne and Basel) is Protestant and even the interior of the 13th century Grossmunster, Zurich’s biggest church is sparsely, spartanly decorated unlike Catholic cathedrals. As I stared at the bare surroundings, a priest rushed to tell me photography was forbidden, prompting me to indignantly but politely (since he was a man of the cloth) protest there was nothing much inside to photograph!
Remarkably, I saw several stalls selling, of all unchristian stuff, statues of Buddha and Buddhism’s pantheon of deities in Zurich’s Christmas market. A few booths sold artefacts from Bali and silk blouses from China while one specialised in ‘blooming flower’ teas, displaying transparent glasses of tea balls which had swelled and unfurled into miniature floral bouquets.
Cafes and restaurants lined both sides so you could sit and watch the world glide by without shivering.
Prices are reasonable and the most expensive items I saw were sword replicas under a thousand ringgit. Most products were around RM 50.
If rustic charms are not your cup of tea, directly in front of the railway station is Bahnhof strasse. It is one of the world’s most expensive shopping street, loaded with designer fashion boutiques, watch shops and high-end jewellery stores like Gubelin, Bucherer and Turler, Switzerland’s tripartite of the most prestigious multi-label havens of dreams.
Five minutes’ walk on Bahnhof strasse is Zurich’s smallest Christmas market with just 10 stalls. Its claim to fame is the ‘Singing Christmas Tree’ ---a pyramidal platform resembling a huge Christmas tree filled with up to 50 children singing carols and popular Yuletide songs. Dressed as Santa Clauses, the kids belt out lustily to the great appreciation of onlookers and admiration of parents and relatives!
A tiny market is at Niederdorf in Geneva’s Old Town. I find it particularly charming as the openair stalls are festively decorated while the shops sell local products and most boutiques sell made-in-Zurich apparel with nary a Zara, H & M, MNG or big multi-national in sight. The cobbled streets mean high heels are a threat to life and limb.