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December 04, 2012

How to host a Christmas market on the southern tip of Africa

Shoppers at this Christmas market in Nuremberg, Germany, are all bundled up to keep warm. Photo courtesy Tony (aka sciascia)

The traditional Christmas market is said to have started in German-speaking Europe in the late 14th century. From there, markets have spread to the entire Christian world.

These festive events bring communities together at Christmas time to eat, drink and be merry. Oh, and to shop too, of course.

Markets are usually held in the town square and immediate surrounds, where residents and visitors sample local delicacies from open-air stalls while being entertained by traditional song and dance. There’s also typically a ceremonial welcoming of the Christ child, played by one of the local children, on the first night of the market.

“The thing about European Christmas markets is they’re so darned cold,” says Caroline Smith, a South African who recently returned from a four-year work assignment in Belgium. “The atmosphere is always very festive and jolly, with sights, sounds, smells and tastes that will always transport me back to those times. But most of the wares at the market are designed to keep you warm more than anything else.”

As a result, Smith says, she would visit the market for a couple of hours at most before the lure of a crackling log fire had her heading for the nearest homebound tram.

Not so the Cape Town Summer Market. Thanks to our location at the southern tip of Africa, Christmas time means summertime in the Mother City. In addition, our diversity has opened up the seasonal celebration to include people of all cultures and traditions, and it is in this spirit that this year’s Cape Town Summer Market will be taking place.

The11-day family market will take place in the Company’s Garden in the city centre, in celebration of South Africa’s heritage and diverse people. The Company’s Garden is an important historic landmark, originally established to provide fresh produce for the spice-trading ships of the Dutch East India Company. The garden is 360 years old and still contains a pear tree of the same age!

These days, it provides Capetonians with a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the central city. The Garden Tea Room is a popular lunch spot, and during the day park benches are often occupied by everyone from businessmen to schoolkids. You may even spot some of the local grub being enjoyed there – the famous Cape Town Gatsby, for instance – typically, an enormous bread roll stuffed with French fries, salad, and polony (a type of cold meat).

South Africans of all age groups and backgrounds, as well as tourists and other visitors, are welcome to join us at this exciting new market.

Photo courtesy Pimthida (aka Der Point).

There will be plenty to see and do – the market will showcase some of Cape Town’s finest craft-makers and entertainers, offer gourmet food and drink (including a beer garden), a picnic zone, and a lifestyle and eco tent.

More than 200 stalls will be set up along the length of Government Avenue, offering a mixture of street style and artisanal goods. And don’t forget that the Iziko South African Museum, the Planetarium and the South African National Art Gallery are right there too!

The Cape Town Summer Market will run from December 14 to 24, 2012 between noon and 21h00 every day. Come along and do your Christmas shopping, grab a bite to eat, or relax on the lawn with your picnic basket. Bring the kids and make an outing of it.

You never know ... you might even bump into a prodigal Belgian! And you certainly won’t need to rush home to get warm.

Visit this Cape Town Summer Market Pinterest board to get an idea of what lies in store.

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