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DAY TRIP: It’s Christmas time in the in the big cities

Open-air markets will kindle an interest in German holiday traditions

CHICAGO – If you’re in the market for some German-flavored Christmas culture, you don’t have to go to the North Pole, but you do have to head north.

Christkindlmarkets are the gift that keeps on giving and they’ve been giving for a long time in Germany, where they’ve been around for centuries. Closer to home, the open-air Christmas festival and market have been part of Chicagoland’s landscape since 1996.

Fashioned after the 16th-century Christkindlesmarkets in Nuremberg, Germany, the markets up north will be bring their Christmas cheer to downtown Chicago, Wrigleyville (on the north side of the city), and Milwaukee this month and next.

The outdoor experiences feature candy cane-stripped wooden huts, lots of items to purchase, and food and drink – German beer and hot spiced wine called Gluhwein, to name a few. Perhaps you’d like a hand-crafted ornament? Then you’ve come to the right place. 

And it just wouldn’t be Christmas without something for the kids. Children can take part in Kinder Club events. Those 14 and younger can join the club for free by signing up ahead of time on the website. At the market, kids can get a passport that contains riddles and pages to be colored.

If you’re new to the market, you may want to start an annual tradition – or continue with one you’ve already started – by picking up a Christkindlemarket mug. A new design is available again this year.

If it’s chilly – like it already has been – the markets have warming areas; in Chicago’s market, they’re at the Festival Tent and the Grand Timber House. The markets will be open unless weather conditions are unsafe.

Most of the vendors are from Germany, but the international list also includes Sweden, Poland, South America, Russia and, of course, the U.S.

Let’s take a look at a few of those who will be attending at the various locations:

In Milwaukee, we’ll find Baked Cheese Haus (Mineral Point, Wis.), Bethlehem Nativity Products (Israel), Bob’s Belgian Hot Chocolate (Stickney), TeaGschwendner (tea from Meckenheim, Germany), Winterborn Alpaca (Canada) and St. Roger Abbey Organic French Gourmet Patisserie (Marengo).

Chicago has DonerMen (Chicago, German street food), Dragons and Fairytales (Altenhain, Germany and Warrenville), Glaszauber Lauscha (Lauscha, Germany, ornaments), Helmut’s Original Austrian Strudel (Plauen, Germany), SaraBooCreek (Naperville) and Resham’s (Chicago, imported products).

Then in Wrigleyville, we’ll find Milwaukee Pretzel Co., Otavalo Inka (Ecuador), Pook (Canada, winter apparel), Pop-up Vendor Booth (changes), the Northman (Chicago - beer and cider garden), Pallay Craft (Peru), Bavarian Tradition (Munchen, Germany) and Viktoria Anna Ornaments (Poland and Chicago).

The markets also have Christkind, similar to Santa Claus, but with a festively feminine twist. Fresh out of folklore, she’ll be making appearances; check the website for her schedule. At Daley Plaza, she’s expected from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays, and visitors can meet and greet Christkind and have a photo taken with her as she strolls through the market, sharing German holiday traditions.

You’ll need a reservation for some of the festive fun: Stammtisch, in the Chicago and Milwaukee markets, features a private table for eight for 2 hours. You can purchase family-style German food and beverage packages. See the website to make reservations.

Also, the fifth annual preview “Twas the Night Before Christkindlmarket” will be from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at Daley Plaza. Tickets are needed to attend. Christkind will be on hand again, and will hand out souvenir mugs. Visit for the two ticket packages. The same website also sells tickets to the December children’s lantern parades at Daley Plaza and Milwaukee.

Bundle up head north and get into the Christmas spirit and experience a taste of German holiday traditions. And if you hit all three of them, the markets will have you singing “Oh, Christmas trio. Oh, Christmas trio …”


What: Christkindlmarkets

Where: Chicago: Daley Plaza, downtown Chicago in the Chicago Loop between Dearborn, Washington and Clark Street and Winterland at Gallagher Way, 3635 N Clark St. in Wrigleyville on the north side of Chicago; and Milwaukee: Entertainment Plaza outside of Fiserv Forum, 1111 Vel R. Phillips Ave.


• Daley Plaza and Milwaukee – Nov. 15 to Dec. 24 - 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 28 and Dec. 24

• Wrigleyville – Nov. 22 to Dec. 31: 3 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 23, Dec. 24 and 31. Closed Dec. 25.

Cost: Free admission

Distance: about 100 miles from Dixon to Chicago area and 143 to Milwaukee

Accessibility: Accessible to wheelchairs; weekday visits recommended

Information: (covers all three sites) or call 312-494-2175 (Chicago number)

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