Christkindlmarket — Chicago’s take on a traditional German Christmas market — is back with locations in the Loop and Wrigleyville. 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.
photo: courtesy of ©Adam Alexander
When and Where?
Taking place November 15-December 24 at Daley Plaza and November 22-December 31 at Wrigleyville’s Gallagher Way, 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.
Meet a Real-Life Fairy
The market’s ethereal, 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.
Highlights at the Daley Location
Franks Ornament House
Head to the northeast corner of the Daley Plaza 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 at the Daley location — 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 30). For a Chicago tradition, stop by Cabin 11 for stollen (a traditional German holiday cake) from Dinkel’s Bakery. Don’t forget hot spiced cider and hot chocolate, available at numerous cabins as well as inside the Grand Timber House next to the stage, which has seats and tables if you want to cozy up for awhile.
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.
photo: Christkindlmarket at Gallagher Way
Highlights at the Gallagher Way Location
Children’s Lantern Parade
Experience a typical celebration of St. Martin’s Day in Germany with the Children’s Lantern Parade, December 11, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. The tradition of St. Martin is celebrated by German schoolchildren in honor of good samaritans. Families are invited to parade around the market plaza, let by Christkind, while singing German and English Christmas carols. Christkind
While You’re in the Loop
- Ice Skating at Millennium Park happens daily in front of “The Bean” sculpture and Park Grill, along Michigan Avenue, between Randolph & Washington streets. They even offer free ice skating lessons, Fri.-Sun. and on school holidays.
- 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.
- Stop in to chat with Santa and the holiday window displays that Macy’s State Street is known for.
- Watch the winking and blinking of holiday lights with a tour with the Chicago Trolley Co. The lightly narrated two-and-a-half-hour adventure shows the best of Chicago’s holiday lights, including a stop at Christkindlmarket.
photo: Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville
While You’re in Wrigleyville
- Besides Christkindlmarket, Gallagher Way will be decked out with holiday flare bigger and brighter than ever before during this year’s Winterland. Celebrate the holidays by taking part in the many Winterland programs happening Nov. 22-Feb. 16, including ice skating, curling and skating lessons, Santa’s Workshop, wreath-making classes, holiday movies and much more.
- Join Lincoln Park Zoo for their 25th annual celebration of ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. This one-of-a-kind, festive holiday experience offers a free, merry, family-oriented celebration of joy right in the heart of the city.
photo: courtesy of Maria Chambers
- If possible, visit the markets 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 and passport 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 Wrigleyville calendars.
- If you have a child that is wheelchair-bound, everything at the market is wheelchair accessible.
Held daily Nov. 15-Dec. 24
Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Thanksgiving Day & Christmas Eve, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission is free
Daley Plaza, between Dearborn, Washington & Clark streets
Held daily Nov. 22-Dec. 31
Mon.-Thurs., 3 p.m.-9 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Thanksgiving Day & Christmas Eve., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Closed Christmas Day
Admission is free
Gallagher Way, 3635 N. Clark St., Wrigleyville
— Kelly Aiglon and Maria Chambers