Christkindlemarket in Chicago is only 23 years old…an infant, compared to the market in Nuremberg, Germany. Nuremberg’s was established in 1545 and still serves as the inspiration for Christmas markets around the world. Christkindlmarket translates from German as “baby Jesus market.” It goes by other names in different areas of Germany, as well as Austria and Switzerland: Christkindlesmarkt, Christkindlimarkt, and Weihnachtsmarkt.
Even Nuremberg was late to the game, although today it’s the world’s most famous; two million people visit every year. Christmas markets were started in the late Middle Ages in Bautzen (1384) and Frankfurt (1393) and Munich (1434). However, Vienna’s “December Market” takes top prize, opening in 1298.
Historically, the markets were set up for the four weeks of Advent. They were held in the town’s main square and featured food, drink–warm alcohol was standard–and open-air stalls selling seasonal items. Music and entertainment made the event festive.
Celebrations like this were too good to stay local. The Christkindlmarket concept has gone global. You don’t have to go far to find one near you; cities and towns are establishing the tradition. (Here’s a list of the Top 20 Christmas Markets in the U.S.)
Chicago’s market opens about a week before Thanksgiving and closes on Christmas Eve. The original Christkindlmarket set up shop in the Daley Plaza, under the watch of Picasso’s famous untitled sculpture, a gift to the people of Chicago. It’s been so successful that it’s now in other locations: the Wrigleyville neighborhood, suburban Naperville…and Milwaukee! One of the highlights each year is a new mug design for the Glühwein, the magical mulled wine that warms up both body and soul. The designs for the 2018 mugs are different for each place.
Once you have your mug of warm wine, it’s time to stroll and shop. The stalls are full of gorgeous hand-painted glass ornaments, some featuring Chicago landmarks. A pop-up building has rows and rows of ornaments for every type of interest: animals, flags, hobbies, vocations, and color schemes. Your items are carefully wrapped and boxed. I dare you to visit Christkindlmarket and not buy a single decoration!
If you’re coming to Daley Plaza, here’s the map!
Hungry? Here’s where things get interesting. There’s no lack of food vendors, but you won’t find Italian beef sandwiches or Chicago-style hot dogs here. Expand your palate and try pickled herring. I did–it’s great! Not for you? No worries. Choose sausage or schnitzel, both served with sauerkraut. Hankering for sweets? You’ll be in heaven with strudel, gingerbread, baked apples, chocolates…
No matter where you live, I hope you’ll find a version of Christkindlmarket. In our digital age, it’s fun to step back and participate in a traditional experience.
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