Chicago is a city of immigrants and ethnic culture, which it maintains as part of its identity. Every Christmas, for example, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry features Christmas trees from around the world. Neighborhoods with strong ethnic ties retain that flavor over the holidays, whether one travels to Pilsen (with its large Mexican-American population) or Andersonville (with its Swedish heritage).
One of the loveliest examples of sharing ethnic celebrations is held every year at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago, the Christkindlmarket, a traditional outdoor Christmas market modeled on the German Christmas market in Nuremburg (which has been in place since the 16th century).
Chicago’s Christmas Market Days and Hours
Christkindlmarket Chicago, “a German-American Holiday Festival” is held daily from November 25 to December 24, at Daley plaza, 50 West Washington Street in the Loop. At 4 pm on November 25 is the traditional tree lighting ceremony on the plaza, although the market itself is open from 11 am to 8 pm. This is the “sneak peek,” with the grand opening of the market held the day after Thanksgiving. (However, the market is open from 11 am to 4 pm on Thanksgiving day.) The regular Christkindlmarket hours Sunday through Thursday are 11 am to 8 pm, with an extra hour on Friday and Saturday nights to accommodate holiday shoppers. Admission is free.
Transportation Options for Christkindlmarket
With its central location on Daley Plaza between Washington, Clark, and Dearborn Streets, the Chicago Christmas market is easy to reach. For El riders, both the blue and red lines are available (use Washington and Lake Street exits). For tourists, the free Navy Pier trolley comes to this area on its usual rounds. Driving is the most expensive option for visitors to the Christkindlmarket, and while there are plenty of parking garages in the area, daytimes often find them full of downtown commuters while evenings can be busy with the theater and symphony crowds. Street parking is the most unlikely of all, so if possible, use public transportation.
History and Tradition of the Chicago Christmas Market
Taking a page from the traditional Christmas market of Nuremberg, Germany, Chicago’s own celebration started in 1996 and has continued ever since. The product of a decision to try and improve bilateral trade between Chicago and Germany, the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest invited many German companies to come to Chicago for this special Christmas market to recreate the European Christmas market in the heartland of the United States.
There was widespread acceptance early on, and today the majority of participants at the market are companies based in Germany, which bring in German goods (and food) for all of Chicago to enjoy. The first Christkindlmarket drew more than 300,000 visitors with 70 percent bilingual (German and English) speakers.
Chicago’s Christmas Market Goods and Vendors
Looking at the list of Christmas market vendors is like reading a list of all the products one associates with a trip to Germany in December. Because it is a Christmas market, there are plenty of Christmas ornaments and holiday decorations (like nutcrackers), as well as toys, clothing, cuckoo clocks, beer steins, and Hummel figurines.
Vendors at the Christmas market include companies from German cities such as Munich, Zweissel, Augsburg, Berlin, Dresden, and many other German locations. There are also companies from countries such as Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Poland, Ukraine, Morocco, and Russia, as well as American companies specializing in German goods.
Holiday Food and Drink at the Christkindlmarket
With an emphasis on German tradition, the Chicago Christmas market is a food lovers’ holiday dream. Traditional German dishes (with half served by companies based in Germany) and brews are served at the market. There’s a special emphasis on Christmas flavors, like stollen (a traditional German Christmas cake), gingerbread, and baked apples. Roasted nuts, Christmas candy, and hot drinks for snowy weather are sure to be in order.
More than anything else, the Christkindlmarket in Chicago is a celebration of the season, with a cheerfulness and pleasure of the holidays unmatched by regular retail shopping. Located close to the busy shopping locations of Michigan Avenue and State Street, the Christmas market is an easy stop along the way. With its offering of handmade gifts, German food, and visitors from across the ocean, this is a very special place to celebrate Christmas in Chicago.