This Traditional Holiday Festival In Alabama Is The Best Way To Celebrate The Season
Christmas spirit, German culture, and Southern hospitality come together beautifully at Christkindlmarkt, a traditional holiday festival in
Cullman, Alabama. Only in its third year as of 2023, festival organizers expanded the event to five full weeks of holiday fun. Let’s take a look at the many aspects of the celebration and all the goodies you can get into there.
The season begins the day after Thanksgiving with the lighting of the Christmas Pyramid, which is the largest in North America at a towering 40 feet. The German word for these structures is Weihnachtspyramide. Traditionally, German families would hang much smaller versions indoors. Each level has carved figures representing significant holiday stories and community themes. Cullman's pyramid features a nativity scene, angels on earth, a santa with snowmen, nutcrackers, community characters, and angels in heaven.
The pyramid stands next to the Cullman County Museum, which is housed in a replica of town founder and namesake Col. John G. Cullmann's home. Cullmann immigrated from Germany to the US in 1866, when he envisioned establishing a new community. Ultimately, he recruited the first five families to move to what is now Cullman in 1873. By 1895, he brought more than 100,000 immigrants to the South.
The lighting of the pyramid marks the official opening of Christkindlmarkt. The German Christmas market comprises 50 vendors in cute holiday huts selling handmade crafts, gourmet foods, and other gift items. Following the opening weekend that kicks off the day after Thanksgiving, the market's business hours are Thursday evenings from 4 to 9, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m. The huts are located in newly redesigned Depot Park by the Festhalle Marketplatz in downtown Cullman.
Bring your appetite and dig into many different types of German cuisine. Fill up on bratwurst with mustard and mulled wine and top it with a sweet treat like candied almonds, stollen sweet bread, or soft, heart-shaped gingerbread cookies called lebkuchen. A festival fave are the authentic Liège waffles, which are delicious and easy street eats. They're made of a brioche bread with pearl sugar within it. When baked, the sugar caramelizes, giving it a "syrup" flavor without the mess.
Christkindlmarkt will have many special guest characters to delight visitors. They'll include Buddy the Elf, Santa and Mrs. Claus, the Grinch, and the graceful Christkind. Created during the Reformation, Christkind is a counterpart to Santa Claus and considered the holiday gift-bearer among kids in German-speaking countries.
There's much more to the market than shopping and treats, too. There will be mini train rides, ice skating, a beautiful carousel, and photo ops with Santa and other characters.
During market hours, Santa's Village has a dedicated space with so many free fun activities for kiddos. Called Kinderplatz, it offers adventures for your littles such as an interactive snow globe, roasting marshmallows, coloring, making ornaments, and decorating wooden toys. They can even wear their holiday cheer with face painting and Christmas hair tinsel and glitter. And last, there's a spot for finalizing their lists and putting it into a letter to Santa.
One week after the pyramid lighting, everyone converges again for the annual Christmas parade that concludes with a tree-lighting spectacular. The 2023 parade and lighting event is set for Friday, Dec. 1 with emcee James Spann and special musical guest Taylor Hicks.
The parade begins at 6 p.m. and proceeds northeast along First Avenue and concludes at the Depot Park for what organizers say is the largest Christmas tree lighting in the South. Parade floats are always something to behold because competition is friendly but fierce. Organizers award prizes in several categories, with best overall winning $2,500.
And of course you can expect to see St. Nick at the parade and around Christkindlmarkt all season long. Cullman has really stepped up its Christmas game the past few years, and it's great to see people have expanded dates to not miss it. 'Seems like a perfect weekend adventure to get anyone in the holiday spirit.
If you are considering making a weekend of it (you should!), check out this adorable
tiny home vacation rental within a few blocks of downtown. You can visit the Christkindlmarkt website for more photos and details and stay up to the minute on events by following Christmas in Cullman on Facebook.
Have you experienced this traditional holiday festival in Cullman, Alabama? Tell us about it! We’d love to hear about your favorite foods, floats, and finds.
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