Christkindlmarket brings holiday spirit to Chicago


Grace DeKoker, Copy editor

The most wonderful time of the year is marked by a few signs in the city of Chicago: the strings of lights along Michigan Avenue, the Willis Tower antennae lit up with green and red, and, of course, the opening of the annual Christkindlmarkt.

Located at Daley Plaza, the Christkindlmarkt has been running in Chicago for 21 years. The traditional German festival hosts over fifty vendors, some selling goods such as beeswax, ornaments, and woodworks imported from around the globe, and others boasting the best hot cider and authentic German delicacies.

Slightly overwhelming at first due its size, the general ambiance was warm and welcoming, and the live musicians playing classic carols made the whole market instantly charming. The crowds were certainly thicck on a Saturday night, but not annoyingly so; it just took a slow shuffle to see all the rustic booths, complete with red and white striped canopies and artistic signs advertising their products.

The best way to tackle the market is to take a full lap around it to see all they have to offer before making any purchases; the variety between food and goods alike is enormous, and its worth looking at every booth.

I decided to keep it classic with my dinner- while there were dozens of options from local businesses on display, I wanted to try the foods unique to the market. Between my friend and I, we decided on a simple brat and their inviting golden brown potato pancakes. The brat, heavily laden with sauerkraut, had a surprising kick to its finish and  the thick bun provided a sturdy base, making it easy to eat if you were still walking around. The sauerkraut offered a nice tang to the savory and slightly salty meat. The potato pancakes– or latkes as they are often called– are offered plain, with smoked salmon and a vegetable herb sour cream, or with applesauce and sour cream. Always a fan of applesauce and latkes- because it is a heavenly combination- I went for the last option. The pancakes themselves were piping hot and sturdy enough to eat without any utensils. They had the perfect ratio of crunchy exterior to fluffy potato goodness on the inside, and dipping them in applesauce proved to be a delicious sweet and savory combination. Unfortunately, they were soaked with grease which made them quite heavy; I recommend splitting one order between two people, and definitely having napkins on hand to dab some grease.

Continuing to walk and shop around proved to put most everyone in the holiday spirit; some of the products were beautifully crafted and antique, and some were wacky knit hats- half the fun was just seeing what each booth offered. The prices tended to run high, but as most of the goods were handcrafted and artisan, the quality was fair for the cost. The market offers gifts that won’t be found anywhere else, which is perfect for holiday shopping. The glass-blown and hand painted ornaments were mesmerizing, and the wooden figurines were authentic and handcrafted. All the vendors were cheerful and kind, and just ambling around and soaking in the scene was a great way to get into the holiday spirit.

Continuing on the German cuisine theme, I bought a slice of strudel for dessert, not expecting much as it came from a Chicago bakery that had set up a booth. Yet the cherry-cheese filling was rich without feeling too heavy, and the dough was light without being too flaky; the best descriptor is simple and delicious. The highlight of the night was by far the hot cocoa- not only was it made on-sight, but sold in a cutesy ceramic mug to take home to remember your evening. The first sip wasn’t overwhelming sweet, yet was rich and warmed me to the core in the chilly evening air. Thick and creamy, with a healthy dollop of whipped cream on top, it was perfect to drink while taking a last lap around the market.

Among all the cute tchotchkes, stalls sold macarons, crepes, ultimate chocolate-coated strawberries, spiced nuts, and any other sort of delicacy you could imagine. There’s no way you could hit every booth in just one visit, but no matter what decisions you make, there’s certainly something for everyone. Saturday night in the city the week before Christmas was probably the most crowded night to have gone; if you’re looking to avoid the throngs of people, hit the market on a weeknight instead.

Whether you’re in need of unique presents for friends and family, wanting to get a taste of German cooking, or looking for a fun activity in the city, the Christkindlmarket in Chicago is open until Christmas Day, and other locations have hours throughout the holiday season and winter break. I know whenever I brew up my own hot cocoa in my commemorative mug, I’ll smile and remember the fun experience that I had at Christkindlmarket.