A Passport to Holiday Fun at Chicago's Christkindmarket

It's hard to believe that Hannukah has come and gone and Christmas is just about a week away. But, it's true. For some people, it means acting fast to buy all of those last-minute gifts. For others, it means savoring all of the holiday festivities and events before the trees, lights or other decorations come down and get tucked away in storage for another year. But, if you happen to fit into both camps, you'll want to head to Christkindlmarket Chicago at Daley Plaza which offers shopping and holiday cheer - with a European flair - all in one place. But, hurry. It closes Christmas Eve.

A German Holiday Tradition in Chicago

Heading to Christkindlmarket Chicago is an absolute "must-do" for me and my family each year. I love that with just one step into the market confines you feel like you've jetted off to Europe. Yes, even in the heart of Chicago, when I'm at the Christkindlmarket I feel like I'm in a different place, with the sights, sounds and smells of all of the vendors transporting me off to Germany and beyond. And, I can't help but be tempted by the foods and goods sold at the cozy stalls that dot the open-air market.

Christkindlmarket Chicago is the result of an idea by the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest (GACCoM) Consulting Services to promote bilateral trade between the U.S. and Germany. The group's leaders invited companies from Germany and Chicago to participate in the first market held in Chicago back in 1996. Since then, Christkindlmarket Chicago has grown and flourished into a holiday tradition, transporting residents and visitors alike to the glorious markets found in Germany, France and other European countries - right in Chicago.

At the market, you'll find the longest lines for the food stalls where you can find German gastronomic delights like bratwurst, sauerkraut, potato pancakes and schnitzel. When we visited one weekend, we were also amazed at the line that snaked out of the candy shop, where people patiently waited at least 20-deep to buy German candies, including the ever-popular Haribo gummies. And, of course, it will come as no surprise to learn that some of the biggest crowds clustered around the booths and tents selling hot mulled wine (or gluhwein) - in a ceramic boot!

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Other German culinary treats include a whole host of sweets like gingerbread cookies, marzipan-shaped snowmen and Santa Clauses, and stollen. Needless to say, it's wise to come hungry. But, the market isn't just about food. Stalls selling ornaments by the basket beckon over interested market guests. While others selling handmade lace, artisanal honey, wooden toys, and more catch the eyes of adults and children alike.

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Be sure to also visit the market stalls at the east end of the market along Dearborn Street, which offer an international mix of goods from Sweden, India, Ireland, Poland and other countries. You and your children can choose fun international gifts here like Pippi Longstocking (or Pippi Langstrump in Swedish) books, world music CDs, hand-painted ornaments or Celtic jewelry, helping to ensure a global-influenced mix for your holiday gifts.

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Holiday Fun for All Ages at Christkindlmarket Chicago

Christkindlmarket Chicago truly is a holiday event for all ages. From the food, to the vendors, to the entertainment, there is something for everyone. If you choose to come to the market with your children (like I did), be sure to pick up one of the Christkindlmarket Chicago Passports at the information window in the Grand Timber House as soon as you arrive at the market. Then, as you shop your way around the market, be sure to have your children spot the "Passport" signs, signaling that the market stall is one of the many places they can stop and get their passport stamped. Once your children get five stamps in their passports, you can take it back to the information booth in the Grand Timber House to get a small prize.

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The passport books also contain fun holiday and Christkindlmarket-specific activity pages (or aktivitaten seiten in German) for your children to do while they wait in line for food or candy, or when you return home later. Be sure to flip to pages 10 and 14 to have your children take part in one or both of the two scavenger hunts. You also can flip to page 18 to find out more about the "Christmas Pickle" ornament, an American tradition that is supposedly of German origin.

Lots of other kid-friendly activities abound at the Christkindlmarket. We caught an authentic German Oompa band whose lively tunes captured the attention of our sons and kept them planted in place, with their eyes trained on the musicians until we had to coax them to move on to see more of the market. Kids also will like poising with two life-sized nutcracker statues. And, they also can get in one more visit to see Santa Claus in his house at the "North Pole." Santa will be there on this Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Christmas Eve (Monday, December 24) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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And, when you've got your fill of the German-inspired market and its global goods, be sure to head just one block east to State Street and check out the holiday windows at Macy's, adding to another wonderful day in the city filled with holiday shopping and cheer to cherish and remember together.

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Just the Facts... When to Visit Christkindlmarket Chicago

Christkindlmarket Chicago is open daily from now until Christmas Eve. Its hours are Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The market will close its market stalls for good on Christmas Eve (Monday, December 24) at 4 p.m.

The market is located on Chicago's Daley Plaza (across from City Hall) at 50 W. Washington Street.
Admission to the market is free.

More information is available on the Chicago Christkindlmarket website.
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