Christkindlmarket — Chicago’s take on a traditional German holiday bazaar — is back. Should you take the kids? Ja! Shop, eat, enjoy free entertainment, shop some more, and even say “guten tag” to Santa Claus. Read on for the highlights and a few tips on what to do while you’re in the area.
Kicking off November 17 and packing up December 24, head to Daley Plaza, where you’ll see the market’s signature wooden cabins topped with festive red-and-white-striped canopies. Inspired by the real deal in Nuremburg, each cabin is packed with handmade gifts, food and drinks from around the world and many are run by native German speakers. The market is outdoors and we all know how cold our fair city can get, so bundle up and spend your time there wisely.
Frank’s Ornament House
Head to the northeast corner of the market to this walk-in heated cabin. You’ll find sentimental gifts for everybody on your list. Nested in baskets are thousands of glass ornaments, organized by theme, shape and color. Look for those related to your kids’ interests (there’s everything from soccer balls to pianos) or pick up glittery starts, orbs and diamonds. Most ornaments cost less than $10.
Santa’s abode comes to the market courtesy of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for the City of Chicago and sits next to the City’s official Christmas tree. You have to stand outside in line to see the big guy in red, but it’s worth the wait for a one-on-one meeting. Snap photos, dish what’s on your list, and savor the “ho, ho, ho.”
Food, Food & More Food
There are nearly 20 food and drink stands — most run by German vendors who came from as far as Tuttlingen and Stuttgart. Go for the warming delights, like schnitzel, potato pancakes and goulash soup (you can get it all at Schnitzelhaus at Cabin 29). For a Chicago tradition, stop by Cabin 10 for stollen (a traditional German holiday cake) from Dinkel’s Bakery. For another type of Euro favorite, order a made-to-order Nutella crepe from Crepes Paname, in town from Paris, located at the southeast corner of the market at Cabin 15. Don’t forget hot spiced cider and hot chocolate, available at numerous cabins as well as inside the Grand Timber House, which has seats and tables if you want to cozy up for awhile.
Meet a Real-Life Fairy
The market’s pretty, angelic mascot is a crowned fairy with gold and white robes. Called “The Christkind,” she flits throughout the market, greeting kids and stopping for photos. She’s rooted in folklore that dates back to the 1500s, when a “grand angel” led holiday parades in Germany. The Christkind is thought to be the gift bearer in most German-speaking countries (much like Santa Claus is here). If you happen to catch her at the market, she’ll visit with children and hand out take-home activities.
Best Shopping Picks
Hand-poured candles made from German honey. Wooden cuckoo clocks crafted in the Black Forest. Mouth-blown glass vases from Poland. Stoneware beer steins as big as your head. Every cabin at Christkindlmarket is filled with charms and it’s tough to play favorites. But if you have kids to entertain, there are some obvious stops. Go to Toy Wonderland at Cabin 35 for wooden toys and games from Dresden, Germany; and Gifts from Eastern Europe at Cabin 23 to eye up Russian nesting dolls and papier-mâché laquer boxes. Kids also love wooden nutcrackers from Hoffmann Company from Dresden in Cabin 36. Our favorite is Cabin 43, where Der Lindwurm & Wyvern’s Liar from Altenhain, Germany, displays intricate wood-carved animals, dragons and fairytale creatures.
Christkindlmarket Heads West
The Christkindlmarket Chicago is excited to host a suburban location of this holiday extravaganza you have come to know and love at Naper Settlement (523 S. Webster Ave., Naperville). The market is open Thursdays through Sundays, Nov. 24-Dec. 24, and everyday Dec. 18-21. After you’re finished filling your sacks with gifts, your bellies with food and bevies and your soul with holiday cheer, explore all the wonderful shops and restaurants downtown Naperville has to offer.
- If possible, visit the market on weekdays when it tends to be less crowded.
- Some booths are cash only, so be sure to make a stop at an ATM on the way.
- Reserve discounted parking before you ever leave the house by using spothero.com
- Print the Christkindlmarket scavenger hunt to keep the kids entertained and engaged throughout the market.
- Special events like a lantern parade, Hawaiian dancers, special kids days and more will be hosted regularly, so be sure to check out both the Chicago and Naperville calendars.
While You’re in the Area
Within a few blocks of Christkindlmarket there is lots to do, see and explore.
- Ice Skating at Millennium Park happens daily in front of “The Bean” sculpture and Park Grill, along Michigan Avenue, between Randolph & Washington streets.
- The Disney Store is located within the Block 37 shops. Bigger than the average Disney Store, it shows cartoon shorts and movie clips on a wall-sized screen.
- Santa has his own room at Macy’s at State and Washington Streets. Journey up to chat with him, and stop to see the holiday window displays that this store is known for.
Held daily Nov. 17-Dec. 24
Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Admission is free
Daley Plaza, between Dearborn, Washington & Clark streets
For more info, call 312-494-2175 or go online to christkindlmarket.com.
Have you been to Christkindlmarket? Let us know what you think of it in the Comments section below.
— Kelly Aiglon and Maria Chambers