Frohe weihnachten, all of you. Tomball hosts Texan-German Christmas festival

The German Tomball Christmas Market returns this year from December 10 to 12.

Photo: Courtesy of Craig Bogner / Submitted

Kids can get a photo with their choice of an American Santa Claus or a European Santa Claus, or both, at Tomball German Fest’s 13th Annual Christmas Market this weekend.

Netherlands-born Wim Wijnberg has portrayed Saint Nick at the annual event since its inception. His handcrafted long red dress, mitered hat and wooden staff set him apart from the classic American Santa Claus, who is also there to find out if the kids have been mean or nice.

“His beard is very real,” assures Valina Polka, Wijnberg’s daughter and coordinator of the events of the event. Most children are thrilled to meet their dad, she says. Some children are shy, but Wijnberg quickly befriends them.

Other children have questions about the story of Saint Nick.

Wijnberg speaks Dutch, German, French and English, which is convenient, according to Polka, for expats living in the Houston area attending the event honoring the legacy of Tomball, who was colonized by the Germans.

“These families know he will be there and come back to see him year after year.”

It was Grady Martin and his wife Sandy, the founders of the Tomball German Fest, who invited Wijnberg to be their Saint Nick.

Tomball German Fest Christmas Market

Or: 201 S. Elm Street, Tomball.

When: 6 pm-10pm Friday; 10 am-10pm Saturday; 10 am-6pm Sunday.

Details: Free, plus free parking and shuttle service;

The nonprofit Martins organizes the Tomball German Fest every spring and the Christmas version every December. Each free event attracts approximately 50,000 people, spanning Market Street in old Tomball town center, from historic train depot to Town Hall.

Grady Martin says the couple, both of German descent, set out in 2000 to create an event that would educate locals about their town’s German heritage.

Other cities in the “German belt” of Texas, Martin says, referring to New Braunfels, Boerne and Fredericksburg, have long attached importance to respecting their connection to Europe.

In addition to organizing German festivals, the association sponsors high school exchange students in Tomball’s “sister city”, Telgte, Germany, to attend school in Tomball.

With a 15-foot-tall Christmas tree, clogs, live music, and authentic fare such as strudel and potato pancakes, the three-day Christmas market that takes place this weekend is inspired by a german weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market.

About 200 vendors travel from all over the country to sell old world items, folk art, wooden toys and traditional German items, as well as handmade jewelry, crafts, ornaments and souvenirs.

“We’re saying our festival is a Texan-style weihnachtsmarkt,” Martin says. “You don’t have to be German to enjoy these festivals. We want to attract everyone.

Kids can take part in carnival games and rides, including a Ferris wheel, children’s roller coaster, and cyclone, as well as bungee jumping, inflatable slides, and a rock face.

German high school clubs from Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties come to the festival to play the schuhplattler, a traditional folk dance in which performers hit the soles of their shoes.

On four stages, live entertainment features polka, German folk dancers, Austrian ballads, German performance groups playing Christmas arrangements, theater groups, swing dancing, bell choirs and numbers with names such as The Lederhosen Junkies.

“Traditional German folk music charms the hearts of people of all ages,” Polka said, adding, “It’s just good, healthy fun.”

Food on offer includes cutlets, bratwurst, and flammkuchen – which Martin compares to German pizza – as well as Polish and Czech dishes. Bier and Gluhwein are available. The latter, a traditional German mulled wine, is popular at Christmas markets in Europe, Polka says.

Martin says German settlement in the south is unusual and special, and the events offer attendees the chance to soak up the tradition.

Polka agrees. “I hope they keep in their hearts a little piece of the German heritage that we love so much,” she says.

The event also highlights the traditions of the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland and Poland “which form the fabric of America’s unique culture,” she said.

  • Allison bagley

    Allison Bagley is a freelance writer for the Houston Chronicle.

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