Christkindlmarket brings German Christmas to Chicago
By Elisa Shoenberger
Entering its 24th year, the Christkindlmarket brings a bit of German Christmas to Chicago. Debuting in Pioneer Court in 1996, the market grew to three markets in 2019, expanding to locations in Daley Plaza, Wrigleyville and Milwaukee, Wisc.
The German American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) founded the market for business and cultural reasons. They wanted an opportunity to provide small businesses in Germany with a place to feature their products before deciding to invest in the U.S., explains Maren Priebe, CEO of German American Events, a subsidiary of the GACC.
But it wasn’t just about commerce. Christkindlmarkets are popular across Germany and the rest of the European Union. The tradition of Christkindlmarkets grew out of medieval markets going back to the 14th century, said Kate Bleeker, Director of the German American Events. Annual holiday markets began to evolve into social occasions where families and entire communities came together.
The Chicago market was modeled after the Nuremberg market, reflected by the red and white huts.
The market was a bit of a risky venture given Chicago’s snowy winters, Priebe said. But the risk paid off in the first year when 300,000 people showed up to enjoy the market with 13 vendors in Pioneer Court. The following year, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s office invited them to Daley Plaza, where the market has been since.
The Christkindlmarket “has become a centerpiece of the city’s holiday celebration for locals and tourists,” Priebe said. The central location of the market, close to transportation, hotels, and the business district, and free admission have helped the market grow.
In 2014, the market expanded to Wrigleyville and in 2018 Christkindlmarket opened in Milwaukee. GACC has consulted with other fairs across the country but as far as they know they are the most traditional of the Christkindlmarkets in the US.
Bob’s Belgian Hot Chocolate and Wacky Wonderworks are two new vendors in this year’s market. Based in Downers Grove, Wacky Wonderworks sells 3D wooden puzzles, such as Tyrannosaurus Rex or Pegasus, that do not require additional tools. Bob’s Belgian Hot Chocolate will sell his hot chocolate, made from combining Belgium dark and milk chocolate, as well as other chocolate products.
For many, collecting the Christkindlmarket cup is a long tradition. Priebe said the new Christkindlmarket cup will be unveiled Nov. 4.
The Milwaukee and Daley Plaza markets are open from Nov. 15 to Dec . 24 and the Wrigleyville market is open Nov. 22 to Dec. 31.