From hand-crafted, one-of a kind soaps and ornaments to baked cheese and scarves, Christkindlmarket Chicago has it all.
Rooted in German tradition, the Christkindlmarket Chicago has evolved into something pretty special in the Chicago area. Since it first opened in 1996, the market has become a must-visit destination for locals and tourists alike.
German American Events, LLC brings traditions of Germany to Chicago with the market’s festive holiday atmosphere. Entertainment, fine gifts, and food and drink line Daley Plaza Nov. 17 through Dec. 24.
German American Events is a subsidiary of the German American Chamber of Commerce. Together, the organizations seek to bring and promote German culture and business in the United States.
“These markets are very popular in Germany, so it’s really neat to bring something with that culture right to the heart of the city of Chicago’s holiday celebrations,” said Kate Bleeker, manager of the Christkindlmarket.
A local tradition with a rich history
The German tradition dates back hundreds of years, and is most commonly associated with the Nuremberg Christmas Market. That market is thought of as one of Germany’s oldest Christmas fairs, dating back to the mid 16th century.
“Back then (the markets) were considered a cultural gathering place for people,” Bleeker explained. “That’s what we try to recreate in Chicago.”
Complete with red and white candy striped huts, Bleeker called the Chicago market one of the “most beloved Chicago traditions."
The event is also recognized as one of the largest and best holiday markets in the world, a truth that makes it well worth the trip for Pewaukee, Wis. resident Elisabeth Biggs.
The authenticity of the event itself has drawn Biggs to the shopping event a few times through the years. In addition to the steins and commemorative mugs, Biggs said a favorite item she likes to look for is the Christmas pyramids.
"There are lots of ornaments and decorations, but they have some really interesting things too," she said. "It's very crowded, especially at peak hours, so I have never waited in line for the Gluhwein despite really wanting to."
The local endeavor has gained such a following in Chicago that it is opening its third location in the city this season. In 2016, the tradition took to the Naper Settlement in Naperville and this year the newest market will open at the Park at Wrigley.
“It’s been really exciting watching it spread out and grow over time,” Bleeker said. “Even more than that, it’s so neat to offer people who live in different areas of the city a chance to experience the traditions, sights, sounds and magic without traveling across town.”
At each of the markets, traditional wooden huts adorned with twinkle lights will be filled with one-of-a-kind gifts including woodcarvings and delicious German delicacies harkening back to the original Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremburg.
The markets transform the spaces they occupy into picturesque marketplaces, Bleeker said, all of which are free and open to the public.
German culture in the heart of the city
“For those visiting the market for the first time, it’s really about the atmosphere, culture, and history of it all,” Bleeker added. “It’s like a bustling European town square.”
Almost 70 percent of the vendors are from Europe and sell hand-crafted items similar to what you would find at the German markets. The event attracts more than 1 million visitors to each year from all over the world, including many who come for the annual release of the souvenir mug.
Special events occur throughout the market, including the annual Children’s Lantern Parade and Theatre Day.
“Come for the Gluhwein and beer,” Bleeker joked. “Stay for everything else…there’s really anything you can think of or anyone on your list, including yourself, all in about as picturesque a holiday atmosphere as you can imagine.”