From late November, towns and cities around Switzerland set up stalls along streets, in squares, in the shadow of churches or even in railway stations, for their annual Christmas markets.
Montreux hosts one of the country’s most famous markets. Set beside Lake Geneva it has 160 chalets, adorned with sparkling festive lights. In Einsiedeln, the market runs up a narrow street from close to the town’s railway station all the way up to a plaza in front of the impressive monastery. And in Zurich, the market fills the city’s main railway station; crowded rows of stalls are packed in around a central Christmas tree sparkling with gems.
As in many of Switzerland’s Christmas markets, there’s an effort to sell authentic goods, and not just plastic toys to fill a child’s stocking. Handmade wooden candle-holders, giant glass baubles, jars of jams and preserves, packaged and wrapped with ribbons and handwritten labels, put together especially to sell at the town’s market stalls. Often the people who knitted the wooly hats or carved the wooden sculptures stand proudly behind their stall, ready to answer questions from potential customers.
People come from miles around. They walk slowly from stall to stall, taking in the smells and gently picking up handcrafted objects while they run through a Christmas list in their head. And when their hands are frozen and they’ve walked the length of the market stalls, a hot mug of mulled wine brings a warming end to a hard day’s shopping.