A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of traveling to Germany for a tour of the famous WeinhnachtMarkts.
Every year during the month of December, thousands of German towns big and small play host to these Christmas markets. Vendors of all sorts sell their wares. The various traditional foods include roasted nuts, bratwurst and sauerkraut, and the very popular Gluwien, a mulled spiced wine, is offered at every corner.
We are so lucky in the Pittsburgh area because Germany comes to Historic Harmony for a version of WeinhnachtMarkt every year. This year's market will be Saturday, Nov. 12, and Sunday, Nov. 13.
Historic Harmony Inc. is a nonprofit created to preserve the history and traditions of the Butler County town's early settlers. The market place will be in the heart of Harmony’s historic district. Many of the buildings are incorporated into the market to give it a German atmosphere.
As do the markets in Germany, dozens of artisans and vendors sell imported German products and Christmas items. Wineries and food booths are set up in buildings, in tents in the village square and in the museum's Stewart Hall.
Items sold include German Christmas ornaments, nutcrackers and smokers, candles, soaps, wood carvings, jewelry, dolls, iron goods, herbs and potpourri. There will be Santas of all types, pottery and other handmade crafts. The museum will be open for tours, and children can make crafts in the museum’s Zeigler Log home.
Vendors and crafters look forward to the event as much as visitors. Susan Claus sells 18th century dolls at the event. Her husband, Paul Claus, sells leather Jackware.
“The old-world atmosphere of the Harmony Christmas market sets it apart," she said. "The scent of pine boughs and Gluwien, the sounds of draft horses clopping over the cobblestones, rosy-cheeked children hopping around their parents, stalls full of intriguing crafts, everyone smiling, relaxed and happy.
“It brings back to me the excitement about Christmas that I used to feel as a child. It's all the best parts of Christmas preparation cozied up and slowed down.”
Claus said folks should not be worried about cold November weather.
“Even though it is a mostly outdoor event, the Christmas market is very cozy, very ‘Gemutlich,’ ” she said.
The specialty of every German WeinhnachtMarkt is the hot wine punch sold in souvenir mugs. Every market has its collectible Gluwien mug. The Harmony market is no different. Collectors can get this year’s version filled with Gluwien or hot mulled cider.
Wine tastings will be offered in the museum's huge 200-year-old wine cellar. Other German foods will be available, including soup, bratwurst and sauerbraten sandwiches, potato pancakes, German potato salad, pie, mulled cider and the museum's signature Harmony Society ginger cookies.
Many shops and restaurants in the area extend their hours to welcome visitors. Last year, an antiques show was added. Horse-drawn surrey rides through the town will be available.
Dancers and singers will perform traditional German folk songs throughout the market. Saturday night is a family favorite with a carol sing-along and the lighting of the Christmas tree at 5:30 p.m. with Father Christmas making a special appearance.
Thousands of folks visit the Harmony WeinhnachtMarkt every year as part of their Christmas tradition. I know that it has become an important part of ours.
If you're going:
The WeinhnachtMarkt will be from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13. General admission is $7, $5 for ages 60 and older and $3 for ages 6-17. Children younger than age 6 get in free. Harmony is accessible by Exits 87-88 on Interstate 79.
For more information about Historic Harmony and the WeinhnachtMarkt, call 724-452-7341.