Are Eastern Europe’s Christmas Markets Canceled in 2020: What to Expect

With the coronavirus pandemic creating uncertain winter conditions for Eastern Europe’s cities, each one is having to contend with whether it will be able to hold its traditional Christmas activities in 2020. Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, announced as of October that it would not hold its Christmas market, and Vilnius, Lithuania, will move some of its festivities, such as the lighting of the Christmas tree, online or broadcast it via television or other channels. So, what can you expect for Eastern European Christmas markets in 2020? Are they canceled? What will they look like?

Various factors are at play for whether cities in Eastern Europe hold their Christmas markets, which you can find below. While many Christmas markets appear to be going ahead, currently, the following Christmas markets in the region of the Baltics, East Central Europe, and Eastern Europe have officially been canceled for 2020, following the announcement of cancellations in Western European countries such as France and Germany.

Canceled Christmas Markets Eastern Europe

  • Tallinn’s Christmas market

  • Budapest’s Christmas markets [source]

  • Prague’s Christmas markets [source]

  • Bratislava’s Christmas markets [source]

  • Bucharest Christmas market [source]

  • Zagreb Christmas market [source]

Shortened or Changed Christmas Markets Eastern Europe

  • Tartu Christmas market in Estonia (shortened) [source]

  • Sibiu Christmas market (suspended) [source]

Medical System Capacity Will Help to Determine Whether Eastern Europe’s 2020 Christmas Markets Are Cancelled

Numbers of Covid-19 are rising throughout Europe, and though Eastern Europe clamped down on its spread early in 2020, it has been less swift to dampen the second wave after the summer vacation season was over. While many countries have hesitated to institute tighter restrictions due to economic reasons—and certainly, Christmas markets and Christmas festivities in Eastern Europe are an important avenue for revenue for municipalities and individual vendors and businesses—the capacity of the medical system in various countries may require them; those with less capacity, even with relatively fewer cases, will have to address growing numbers of Covid-19 early in order not to overwhelm hospitals.

Related: Poland’s Best Christmas Markets

Ability to Provide Enough Space for Social Distancing May Be a Problem

Christmas markets and other festivities, such as Christmas tree lightings, cause crowds to gather, which creates a risk for the spread of the coronavirus. While some events can be enjoyed from the comfort of home via television or via social media, shopping at Christmas markets may be decidedly different in 2020. If cities choose to host their Christmas markets, stalls may be fewer and more spread out, and there may be a system in place to limit the number of shoppers and funnel them in one direction so they do not mix. People mixing at indoor Christmas markets may be more difficult to control, so their offerings may also be limited.

Related: Hungary’s Best Christmas Markets

Travel Restrictions May Be Tightened

While European countries have loosened their travel restrictions and reduced the need for self-isolation from travelers, we don’t know what the state of travel will be in December 2020. First, airlines have trimmed services, and while winter holiday travel is popular and typically busy, getting a flight to your destination—especially if it is a less or smaller destination in Eastern Europe—may still not be easy. Second, countries may still tighten rules for travelers coming from different countries, particularly those from countries with a high number of cases of Covid-19 than in the destination country. Third, as holiday travel commences, the coronavirus may spread as people gather to celebrate, causing cases to rise and countries to reevaluate the restrictions they have in place.

Low expected visitor turnout may mean that Eastern European cities close shop on their Christmas markets and Christmas festivities as a way to save on resources in 2020. After all, renting a stall at the Christmas market in the historic center of Eastern Europe’s most popular Christmas market cities is often a great expense for small businesses, and vendors may not be able to recoup what they spend on rending a booth or a tent if they don’t expect as many visitors in years past.

Related: The Czech Republic’s Best Christmas Markets

Vendor Preference May Limit In-Person Shopping

While many sellers at Eastern Europe’s Christmas markets prepare year-round for open-air markets and festivals where they can sell their goods, some may choose not to risk their health and safety—or to show up at a Christmas market without any shoppers—and stay home. Tech-savvy and very motivated sellers may move online, while others will wait out the period until they can once again set up booths at traditional and annual festivals and markets.

Related: Vilnius’s Best Christmas Markets

The Power of Technology Offers Opportunity

Many small brands, artisans, and craftspeople have already moved online in order to help themselves weather the pandemic, which has closed physical stores, reduced numbers of shoppers, and hit people’s pockets hard. This means that some individual shopkeepers are selling via the internet or social media, including Facebook or Instagram, and many offer their goods through online sales platforms such as Etsy. It will still be possible to get great gifts and souvenirs from Eastern Europe, but you may have to pay for shipping and forgo the experience that comes with shopping at one of Eastern Europe’s 2020 Christmas markets.

The upside to this is that many small businesses selling traditional, handcrafted, artisan, or small-production goods are customer oriented and are willing and able to answer questions, address specific requests, and take into account the client’s needs. If you’ve had your heart set on something particular from Eastern Europe—for example, Baltic amber, a Lithuanian candle, Lithuanian linen, or something else, contact the seller via email or social media to see how they can help.

Christmas markets in Eastern Europe aren’t going away—they just may be different in 2020. However, the upside is that, if your planned travel to see Eastern Europe’s Christmas markets this year has been canceled, you have another year (and then some!) to plan, to save, and to look forward to experiencing Christmas in Eastern Europe. In the meantime, you can browse the online selection of souvenirs and gifts from vendors, learn how the countries of Eastern Europe celebrate Christmas and incorporate their traditions into your own celebrations, and view Christmas festivities online from the safety of your home. Christmas in Eastern Europe is by no means canceled, and you can bet that major cities hosting holiday activities will come back stronger—with more beautiful Christmas trees and better events calendars—than before!