Christmas heralds a season of joy – and buying presents. But there’s a sustainable and eco-friendly way to shower your loved ones with thoughtful gifts, as these nine Christmas fairs demonstrate. Their mission: to support local producers and encourage responsible consumption.

Brussels: deposit, not garbage

The Winter Wonders Christmas Market in Brussels threw open its gates in late November, treating locals and visitors alike to homemade goods and specialty foods served at 240 wooden stalls. At this popular winter draw, right in the center of the Belgian capital, mulled wine remains an enduring favorite – but it’s served in a different style this year. Mindful of its environmental impact, the City of Brussels decided to issue a deposit-based “Ecocup” to avoid unnecessary volumes of waste accumulating in the city center. It’s a simple, effective, and eco-friendly alternative to traditional paper cups – and one other Christmas fairs might consider adopting.

A spectacle for all of Brussels.
Photo: Eric Danhier
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Bolzano: regional romance

Tucked away between snow-capped mountains, this Christmas fair exudes lashings of romantic flair. Now for the 26th year running, South Tyrol’s capital Bolzano hosts its traditional Christmas fair with 80 exhibitors and gastronomy partners. The market’s not-so-secret highlight: lovingly decorated trees, a life-size nativity scene, and delicious regional baked treats. Yet while this might sound like your archetypal seasonal event, South Tyrol has pledged to make all of its Christmas fairs “green events,” with special focus on energy efficient lighting, regional offerings, and local, sustainably farmed Christmas trees.

Capetown: a kaleidoscope of creativity

Christmas cheer under South Africa’s sizzling sun: Once a month, the high-end Made in the Cape Market showcases the very best of what Cape Town’s interior and fashion designers, silversmiths, or ceramics artists have to offer. For this year’s seasonal edition (December 6th-18th), the market’s promoters promise to make it “bigger and more beautiful than ever.” At the same time, they place special emphasis on regional craftsmanship: All of the exhibitors are locals, without exception.

Christmas feels like summer in Capetown.
Photo: Made in the Cape
Photo: Made in the Cape

Zurich: all about upcycling

This winter, Zurich‘s Sechseläuten Square plays host to a small village offering products by local designers, craftsmen, and producers. Deliberately designed to serve as a young, fresh-faced alternative to Switzerland’s largest city’s more traditional Christmas fairs, the Wienachtsdorf (Swiss German for Christmas village) throws a sparkling spotlight on recycling (November 24th – December 23rd). Expect countless of clever upcycling products, from bags and bikes to clocks and beehive sponsorships.

London: local and organic

Europe’s largest capital has never been about following the mainstream, so its Urban Makers East Christmas Market in the heart of East London goes “off market” instead. In focus: direct sales by local designers since a surprising number of local talents place great emphasis on crafting their own products and supporting fair manufacturing conditions. Quick tip: Check out the in-market workshops on sewing, cooking, 3D printing and more, held on site on December 10th and 11th.


Milan: the green soul of Christmas

The name says it all: While most people love a white Christmas, Milan’s Green Christmas market (December 17th/18th) encourages sustainable consumption through a great selection of creations by small brands and producers. And since this is Milan, Italy’s hub of sartorial excellence, there’s also a lot of premium green fashion to choose from.

Berlin: vegan tattoos and algae pesto

Berlin goes vegan! The German capital has become a hub of plant-based eating with more and more shops and eateries promoting tasty vegan options. The trend’s latest culmination: The Green Market. Expect a lovingly curated mix of street food, fashion, cosmetics, accessories, and all sorts of homemade gift ideas – from vegan tattoos and socks to organic colored pencils and even fairly produced algae pesto or kebabs. At the same time, this Christmas fair goes beyond supporting ethical eating and regional brands: Visitors enjoy a vibrant multimedia entertainment fest of DJs, live sounds, and cooking shows, right in the heart of uber-hip Neukölln.

Sustainable gift ideas from local brands.
Photo: Julia Knörnschild (VernügenvonWelt)
The Green Market is Stefanie Witt’s brainchild.
Photo: Julia Knörnschild (VernügenvonWelt)
Photo: Julia Knörnschild (VernügenvonWelt)
Photo: Julia Knörnschild (VernügenvonWelt)
Photo: Julia Knörnschild (VernügenvonWelt)

New York City: 100 percent handmade

During the festive season, New York City remains one of the world’s most popular tourist draws. And what could be a better backdrop for a delightful Christmas fair than (hopefully snow-flecked) Central Park? Setting up right at the park’s gates, from November 29th to December 24th, the Columbus Circle Holiday Market treats lovers of Christmas spirit to homemade wooden jigsaws, chocolates, sustainable fashion, and jewelry by up-and-coming designers. What’s more, everything is 100 percent handmade in the USA and crafted from recycled materials – a fair and eco-friendly approach.

Portland: feel-good gifts to the rescue

A popular West Coast staple for more than a decade, the Urban Air Market usually travels between Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland. This year’s Holiday Edition (December 3rd/4th) gave Portlanders the chance to scour the market’s range for ecologically responsible gifts for their loved ones. After all, the Urban Air Market has become synonymous with sustainable design and handcrafted fashion, accessories, furniture, and decorations, all produced to certified eco-friendly standards.