One of my daughters lived and worked in Germany for a little over two years. All my daughters studied German in high school and college. Even though my heritage is Dutch, I have a fondness for all things German.
My family members and I have visited Chicago during the Christmas season every year for about the last ten years – sometimes just one daughter and myself, other times the entire family. We have certain things that are on our list of favorite things to do – seeing the windows at Macy’s, eating at the Walnut Room, shopping on North Michigan Avenue, and visiting Chicago’s Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza.
Chicago’s Christkindlmarket began in 1996 by German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest. In 1997, the market was moved to Daley Plaza, home of the (unnamed) Picasso sculpture. At the time, Chicago’s official Christmas tree was also located on the plaza. In 2016, the site for the tree was moved to Millennium Park.
Although the tree is no longer on display in Daley Plaza, there is a large menorah and a life-size nativity. These aren’t actually a part of the market, but the market surrounds them on three sides. The displays help me and others to remember why we celebrate Christmas.
Since Christkindlmarket opened, it has become the largest Christmas market in the States, welcoming over 1 million visitors each year. In 2016, the market opened an additional location in Naperville, followed in 2017, with a market in Wrigleyville. This year a fourth location was opened in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Christkindlmarket offers a variety of items at over 50 different vendor booths. German ornaments and gifts are one of the main attractions – I’ve tried to purchase a special ornament each time I’ve been to the market. This year, I found a replica of the famous Rialto Bridge in Venice.
In addition to gifts, the market has several food booths. Some offer cider, nuts, sandwiches, or other snacks. Two larger facilities serve German meals accompanied by beer, wine, or soft drinks. Glühwein, a warm, spiced wine, is sold in collectible mugs – this year’s in the shape of a heart.
Since I’ve visited the market several times, there are certain familiar shops that I return to each year.
I usually visit TeaGschwendner which also has a regular retail location on State Street. Their Christmas Tea is delicious, but I also like the Rooibos Plum Cinnamon.
I always visit the Sweet Castle, although I don’t need any candy. Each time I visit, I purchase unneeded candy. I can get my year’s fix of Toblerone and Ritter Sport. The shop carries every form of Kinder chocolate – my girls’ favorite – and a nice selection of Haribo gummy bears.
My favorite ornaments are the German glass ornaments, available in several shops. Frank’s Ornament House is my favorite – and the favorite of many other people as shown by the long line to get in. It’s worth the wait.
Several booths display gifts with an international flair. There are German cuckoo clocks and beer steins, Steiff teddy bears, and nesting dolls from Eastern Europe. There are clothing accessories from Nepal, Ecuador, Ireland, and India.
Although I don’t usually eat at the market, I’ve had great food when I did. My family and I ate in the festival tent, enjoying German sausages and accompaniments. This year my daughter and I enjoyed some hot apple cider from one of the food vendors.
Christkindlmarket is open from 11 am to 8 pm, Sunday through Thursday, and until 9 pm on Friday and Saturday. They opened November 16 this year and will close on December 24. Although the Christmas lights and windows are open after Christmas, the market is not, so if you plan to go, now is the time.
The market is free for all visitors. Most of the booths accept credit cards for payment, but some food booths do not. If you do not bring enough cash, there are two or three ATM locations on the premises.
My daughter and I visited this past Saturday. We had a great time, but the market was crowded. We waited in line to get into the Sweet Castle and Frank’s Ornament House. Inside each shop there were plenty of cashiers to take care of customers, but the stores are small, so only a few people can be in the shop at one time.
To avoid the crowds, visit during the week and avoid the lunch hour. Or, like we did, go knowing that there will be crowds and bring your patience along.
A visit to Chicago’s Christkindlmarket is part of my holiday traditions. Have you been to the market? What shops do you like best?