Christkindlmarket in Chicago

With the air getting crisper, holiday lights appearing outside homes, and families resurrecting Christmas traditions across Illinois, there is another tradition unique to the Chicagoland area many families incorporate in their festivities. With festive booths reminiscent of European markets, spectacular gifts and ornaments, and the scent of delicious German food mixed with the aroma of gluhwein, people from all over can enjoy this seasonal market and get in the holiday spirit!

The Christkindlmarket began in Nuremberg, Germany and is one of Germany’s oldest Christmas fairs, dating back to the mid-16th century. It was first mentioned in writing in 1628. The Christkindlmarket in Chicago was first conceptualized in 1995 with the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest (GACC Midwest). They sought alternative ways to promote bilateral trade between the United States and Germany. Former GACC Midwest Vice President Peter Flatzek and Manager of Commercial Services Ray Lotter initiated this partnership with Nuremberg city officials.

Companies from Germany and the Chicagoland area participated in Chicago’s first Christkindlmarket in 1996 on Pioneer Court. It moved to its established location in Daley Plaza in 1997 after special invitation from former Mayor Richard M. Daley. It has expanded to the Chicago suburbs and is the most authentic traditional holiday market of its kind outside of Europe.

Noticeable on many souvenir mugs and present at the Christkindlmarket is its namesake, the Christkind. She is a fairy-like being who is dressed in gold and white robes. She wears a crown on top of her golden hair. Her folklore dates back to the 16th century, stemming from holiday parades guided by one “grand” angel, the Christkind. She is the bearer of gifts to most children in German-speaking countries, like Santa Claus in the United States. Traditionally, the gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve and delivered by the Christkind. Like the lore of Santa Claus, she disappears before the children can catch a glimpse of her.

Following previous visits, 2013 marked the first year of the original Chicago Christkind. She is part of the Grand Opening Ceremony and recites her prologue translated from German to welcome visitors to Christkindlmarket Chicago. She takes photos with the young and young at heart, and also roams the market to share German holiday traditions.

Younger visitors can also pick up free Kinder Club passports at the Christkindlmarket with riddles and onsite activities. Each market location also offers a Lantern Parade for kids to pick up lanterns, goodie bags, and stroll around the market while signing Christmas carols with the Christkind. Children ages 14 and under can join the Kinder Club for free by visiting their website.

For older and younger visitors, there are many exciting parts of the Christkindlmarket. Stalls and booths contain beautiful handcrafted gifts, including ornaments, intricate beer steins, sweaters, toys, religious gifts, Christmas pyramids, and cuckoo clocks. Delicious German food like bratwurst, potato pancakes, pretzels, and schnitzel are also available for purchase. To warm up with a beverage, hot cocoa and apple cider are available, as well as traditional gluhwein and beer for people 21 and older. For a sweet tooth, lots of delicious chocolates and sweets like roasted almonds are sold at the market for stocking stuffers or to enjoy while strolling the booths.

Christkindlmarket continues to thrive through the work of GACC Midwest’s subsidiary, German American Events, LLC. This year, the markets will be held in Wrigleyville, Aurora, and the Christkindlmarket’s iconic home at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago.

Visitors can stop by the Chicago Daley Plaza Christkindlmarket (50 W Washington St., Chicago) and the Aurora RiverEdge Park Christkindlmarket (360 N Broadway, Aurora) between November 17th and December 24th. To celebrate after Christmas, Wrigleyville’s Christkindlmarket at Gallagher Way (3635 N Clark St., Chicago) is open from November 17th to December 31st.