Ever Heard of a Christkindlmarkt?
Hint: It has something to do with the reason Santa comes on December 24.
Back in the day—we're talking pre-16th century here—European Christians gave their children Christmas gifts on St. Nicholas Day, December 6. But Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther thought that put too much emphasis on a saint and took the focus off of Christ. He initiated the practice of giving children gifts on Christmas Eve, December 24, and telling them that these gifts, like all gifts, came from the Christkind—the Christ Child.
Eventually, Germany's longstanding winter markets, which began with local farmers and artisans setting up temporary booths to sell their wares, came to be known as Christkindlmarkts, according to reformationtours.com: "After the Reformation . . . the market morphed into a holiday bazaar that lasted the entire Advent season, with craftsmen joining in to offer toys, carvings, and other gifts to celebrate the Christkind."
Today, German Christkindlmarkts are huge, occupying city squares and bringing live music and other festivities to holiday shoppers. Passport expired? That's okay. You can just go to Georgia. Alpine Helen, Georgia, to be exact.
Come to the town center November 30-December 1 and December 7-8 for Helen's Christkindlmarkt. While you're in the area, get into the holiday spirit at the annual Christmas in the Mountains Lighted Parade (December 7 at 7 p.m. in Cleveland, Georgia).
You'll find no shortage of German food and drink in Helen—schnitzel, sauerbraten, strudel, and of course beer. Expect to hear the occasional oompah, and you might see restaurant servers in period costumes because this little burg thrives on tourism.
If you can't make it for Christmas but plan a fall visit, check out the natural beauty of this area—places like Anna Ruby Falls and Unicoi State Park. The 1-mile Hardman to Helen Heritage Trail is ADA accessible, following the Chattahoochee River from Hardman Farm State Historic Site to Helen.
Picture a little slice of Bavaria in the mountains of North Georgia. You really have to see Helen to believe it, but the aroma of Bratwurst and freshly baked pretzels as big as a dinner plate should make it all clear.