For many Americans, the upcoming holiday season’s food scene means re-gifted fruit cake, syrupy holiday coffee drinks in festive red cups, and pretending to enjoy egg nog. But for many German-Americans, Christmas brings about the season of potato pancakes, hot chocolate served in a boot, and of course, beer.
Christkindlmarket, a German market and festival that takes place yearly in Chicago’s Daley plaza, aims to introduce German Christmas traditions to the masses. Taking place from November 21-December 24, this year marks the 18th consecutive year for the event in Chicago, and like many past years, will be packed with Germans and non-Germans alike hoping indulge in the tastes, sights, and smells of Christmas in Germany.
The market is a 4-week long ode to German traditions, and is a great way to experience holiday customs from another country without leaving the Loop. Just steps from the Lake Red Line stop, the market is packed at 11 am on a unseasonably warm December Saturday, with patrons strolling shoulder to shoulder attempting to circle the market at a snail’s pace.
“We try to come every year,” says German-American Bettina Morrish, a high school teacher from Kentucky, with a mouthful of apple strudel from Dinkel’s Bakery. “My husband’s family is in Evanston, so we always visit during the final week, but we were in town this weekend so we thought we would stop by. No harm in coming twice, right?”
Another Dinkel’s customer showcases his collection of “boots,” or souvenir mugs the bakery serves it’s famous hot chocolate in. “Every year, the have a new one, and it’s a fun momento to remember the event with,” says Dave Johnson, who commuted from Bolingbrook with his family to attend the event.
Christkindlmarket is easier to navigate through on a less packed Monday evening, when tourists and locals alike line up for photos in front of the impressive and beautifully lit Christmas tree that towers over the market. The set-up is reminiscent of an old-European market, with small stalls with awnings and hand-written chalk menus. Most of the stores are walk-up, with a few big enough to browse indoors, like an ornament shop that specializes in glass-blown tree ornaments made in Germany.
The lines outside of each food stall are definitely an indicator for what’s good; several people wait in line at Pretzel Haus, cash in hand to purchase one of several different flavored German pretzels. TGF, an ancynym for Traditional German Food, is by far the busiest, with patrons walking away with bratwurst grilled to order. TGF also has a selection of German hot soups, perfect for chilly Chicago evenings.
“We try and cook the most authentic German food here,” says Jonathan Winkler, an grill cook at the TGS stall. “That’s why people come here, to taste good German food. We would be doing them a disservice by serving them a watered-down American version.”
As Winkler notes, Christkindlmarket is quintessentially German. The market has done a great job at attracted tourists and Chicago residents, all while keeping the integrity of its vision statement of introducing the population to classic German traditions. Regardless of what day or time you go, expect a good time browsing through German gifts, and tasting classic food you may not be able to typically find in the city. You may just find a new addition to your own family holiday traditions.
Christkindlmarket is located at Daley Plaza between Washington, Clark and Dearborn Street, and is accessible by the Blue Line at Washington/Dearborn and the Red Line at State/Lake. Christkindlmarket is open daily until Christmas eve from 11am-8pm Sunday-Thursday, and 11am-9pm Friday-Saturday. Admission is free, but most vendors are cash only. A list of vendors can be found at the market’s wesbsite