A very European tradition around Christmas is the Christmas markets that prevail in most major cities as well as some smaller ones. They are a pleasant experience for the whole family, and for the residents of Europe as well as the tourists that they offer a unique setting for Christmas shopping. They will usually have stalls selling Christmas gifts and decorations, but food is also a big part of it. The food will usually be traditional to this country, but the mulled wine seems to be common in all seasons.
Traditional Christmas markets were born in Europe but, as many good things are now popping up around the world. Chicago has a downtown called Christkindlmarket. It is run by the German-American services and, as you would expect, presents German traditions. It's really a big deal and it's been going on since 1996.
Vienna, Munich, Prague, London and Lille, France have well-known Christmas markets in Europe, and if you're in one of those cities during the holiday season, you should look for one. But two that I think are quite unique, I would like to point out here, and although they are by no means the biggest I think with their traditional European settings that they stand out as very special.
1. Salzburg, Austria. It is one of the oldest markets in Europe, and not being a big city, it offers a more intimate relationship than some others. Salzburg is truly a charming little town with its baroque architecture and Hohensalzburg fortress overlooking the city. Being the birthplace of Mozart and Joseph Mohr, the lyricist of the famous Christmas Carol "Silent Night", choral music performances are a big part of the festival here. The market is in front of Salzburg Cathedral, and the glittering lights and holiday garlands give it a real sense of fairy tale.
2. Aix en Provence. Located in the south of France their celebration has a true French nature about it. You will notice that it has a simpler sophistication, and as is typical of French Christmas markets, business is more discreet and less flashy at the eye. But there is no damage to taste or quality here. Part of the Provencal Christmas are the 13 traditional desserts that represent Jesus and his 12 apostles. They consist of fresh and dried fruits and sweets, and all the ingredients have different representations: raisins washed with Dominicans, dried figs for Franciscans, and walnuts or hazelnuts for the Augustinians. As with anything in France, food is a complex part of their Christmas festival.