There is really nothing quite like Christmas in Germany. Where else can you stay warm on snowy shopping expeditions by sipping the hot spiced glÃ1/4hwein steaming in vats on the sidewalks? There is a fairy-tale quality to walking snowy cobblestoned streets among buildings that are far older than the United States, looking for the perfect Christmas gifts for everyone you know.

To help with that quest, the Germans have thoughtfully created the best outdoor Christmas shopping experience you'll ever have — the Kristkindlmarkt (Christ Child Market) or Christmas Market in Nuremberg. From the last Friday of November until Christmas eve, the ancient, winding streets and lanes around the Hauptmarktplatz, or main town square--and the square itself--are packed with booths selling every sort of Christmas ornament and decoration imaginable. Kristkindl, the Christ Child (traditionally played by a teenage girl), opens the market with a blessing, standing on the balcony of the Church of our Lady, kicking off nearly a month of festivities. Many other cities and towns in Germany also hold a Kristkindlmarkt, but Nuremberg's Christmas Market is special.

This ancient city, beloved of Adolf Hitler, bombed flat during World War II, and lovingly recreated by its citizens, is one of the most beautiful in Germany. The old city where the market is held looks almost exactly as it did before the war. The jumble of booths packed into the square, each with its red-and-white striped awnings and Christmas lights and wonderful merchandise, makes the old gray stone of the buildings glow with a special sort of Christmas magic.

The tradition of decorating the booths with banners and angels and crèches makes the booths themselves almost as interesting as the merchandise. You'll find everything from lace to crystal to wooden nutcrackers to wonderful wooden tree ornaments tucked away inside. And of course, there's the glÃ1/4hwein. And the sausages. And the bread. And the marzipan and the lebkuchen . . . Just walking into the square sets your mouth watering with all those good smells on the snowy air.

If you dislike crowds or just want to get your shopping done quickly, visit the market early in the day, as evenings can be quite crowded, turning the lanes between the booths into one-way streets where moving against the crowd is sort of like swimming upstream. But by visiting in Christmas Market in the evening, you'll get the full ambiance of the lights and the old city glowing, as it has for four hundred years, with the magic of a really special celebration of the season.