A Guide To The 2019 Christkindlmarket Chicago

The market returns to Daley Plaza celebrating 24 years.

Shannon Blum
November 15, 2019 - 7:26 pm

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) — Chicagoland's favorite holiday tradition since 1996 returns for another year in Daley Plaza.

Stroll through the aisles of the market while taking in the smells of roasted nuts, fresh pretzels, bratwurst, and hot, spiced wine, listening to holiday music play in the background, and gazing at all the sparkling Christmas ornaments - this is the true, Christkindlmarket experience.

Guests can explore all the vendors’ products from all around the world that feature everything from traditional items like nutcrackers and beer steins to everything in between. And once you are done shopping, you may catch yourself watching one of the many performances that take place throughout the season.

Ready to start a new tradition or continue on an old one? Ready to make memories that you will never forget? How about collect a souvenir boot mug and get into the holiday spirit?

Here’s everything you need to know about the Christkindlmarket Chicago.

What is Christkindlmarket Chicago?

Christkindlmarket Chicago is an annual Christmas market inspired by the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany, which began in 1545.

"A Christkindlmarket is a traditional holiday market that you will find all throughout Europe; and it's an outdoor market, so come ready for the weather, especially here in Chicago,” said Maren Biester Priebe, CEO of German American Events. “There are vendors that sell everything from wears and unique artisan gift items to food, drink, and of course, the Glühwein​ - the hot, spiced wine, and I would like to say, traditional German foods - over 70 different menu items are offered here.”

History of the Christkindlmarket

The Christkindlmarket Chicago was first conceptualized in 1995 when The German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest Inc. (GACC Midwest) was seeking alternative ways to promote bilateral trade between the USA and Germany, according to the Christkindlmarket wesbite. Peter Flatzek, former Vice President of GACC Midwest, and Ray Lotter, then Manager of Commercial Services for GACC Midwest, initiated the partnership with city officials of Nuremberg, Germany. Mr. Lotter invited companies from Germany and the Chicago area to participate in the first Christkindlmarket Chicago in 1996. The market was an instant success.

The inaugural event took place on Pioneer Court in 1996 for the first time. By special invitation of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, the Christkindlmarket Chicago moved to Daley Plaza in 1997 and has become a staple event on the plaza ever since.

The Folklore. Who is Christkind? Who is Krampus?

"Christkind is actually, in my world, is my Santa Claus, so she or he - it's not determined - comes on the 24th. You never get to see the Christkind, but you hear a bell ring and then you know gifts are waiting for you,” Biester Priebe said.

She is the namesake of the Christkindlmarket Chicago. According to the market’s website, the Christkind folklore dates back to the 1500s and stems from traditional customs: Parades during the holiday season were guided by one “grand” angel, the Christkind. Since then, and still today, the Christkind is the bearer of gifts to most children in German speaking countries, much like Santa Claus is in the United States

“And Krampus is an Austrian tradition and is usually an accompaniment that scares children into being nice and not naughty,” Biester Priebe said.

You don’t want to know what happens to naughty children.

When is Christkindlmarket Chicago?

Christkindlmarket Chicago takes place from Friday, Nov. 15 through Tuesday, Dec. 24. The market is open daily, Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The market will have special hours on Thanksgiving, Nov. 28 and Christmas Eve, Dec. 24 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where is Christkindlmarket Chicago?

Christkindlmarket Chicago takes over the entirety of Daley Plaza (between Dearborn, Washington and Clark Street). 

How much does Christkindlmarket Chicago cost?

Admission to the Christkindlmarket is always free, but remember to bring cash, as some vendors only accept cash.

Shopping at Christkindlmarket Chicago. What are some of the top “buys” for guests?

Separating itself from the retail world, the Christkindlmarket Chicago offers visitors a unique holiday shopping experience. Over 60 percent of the vendors are from Germany.

"You have traditional items here like the nutcrackers, and you have beer steins, and then of course, you have literally everything in between for everyone's wallet size, so that's the nice part,” Biester Priebe said. “And definitely the food! I love the food - potato pancakes, bratwursts, pretzels, roasted nuts - you can't miss it, because you can smell them all throughout the market, it's amazing.”

Other items include hand-blown, painted ornaments, toys for all ages, jewelry, clothes, home décor, and more. Some vendors even demonstrate how their handicrafts are made at the market, for example, a wood carver demonstrates his unique carving technique and visitors can purchase his creations directly from the workbench.

As Biester Priebe mentioned, some of the most popular items offered are the large assortment of savory and sweet foods, drinks and candied treats. Guests are easily tempted by the smells of sausages, potato pancakes, Strudel, and many other delicacies throughout the market.

But one of the “hottest” items - both literally and figuratively - is the Glühwein, a traditional German holiday market hot spiced wine. Guests were lined up outside the market on opening day waiting to have their first cup of the spiced wine. And it’s not just because they love the taste, the wine is served in a special souvenir boot-shaped mug!

"I want to be first in line for the wine," said Erika Frazier. "It's an annual tradition. My birthday is Tuesday, so we come every year." 

And she was sure to get her wine in the boot mug!

Marge Kinkade was also there for opening to get a cup of wine. 

"I am post eight weeks total hip replacement surgery and this is my first outing," she said. "We are here for the wine." 

Food & Drink at Christkindlmarket Chicago

There are over 70 different menu items offered at the market. The food and drink is exactly what you’d expect from a German market with options like different sausages, potato pancakes, goulash, and more. 

So what is the favorite?

"I think it is a top 10 almost, but I am not going to list them all. But I think what I hear the most is definitely the potato pancakes, because it's that part of the tradition if you will,” Biester Priebe said.

“But then there's also something unique here or there that our vendors serve. We have vegan options. We have curried options, which may not sound very typical European but it actually is. And then we have everything in between with sweets and treats and I can only recommend also the chocolate dipped fruit - one of my favorites.”

And of course, in terms of drink you cannot skip on the Glühwein - but don’t worry, if that is not your thing, there are plenty of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options to cleanse your palette. 

The Tradition. Why do people continue to come back?

"I think it's really the magic of it, to be honest. It's a little European village tucked away in the downtown area, in the skyscrapers,” Biester Priebe said. “When you look up you forget that you are in the city of Chicago. It's a little bit of a romantic thing and something that gets you into that holiday spirit.”

Christkindlmarket 2019 Boot Mugs
Christkindlmarket Chicago/Facebook

Boot Mugs. What’s the history behind them? Why was the choice made to bring them back?

"So it is very traditional in European markets that you drink your hot, spiced wine in a cup. So the cup kind of morphed into different shapes and sizes and ended up being the boot for Chicago, and it has become a trend for sure, and then we started mixing it up a little bit and adding different shapes,”  Biester Priebe said. “[Those] also had great feedback - everyone loved the heart shape last year, but for sure the boot is the favorite so we brought the boot back.”

The reason: "I think it is just part of the collectors and the fans asked us, ‘can you bring it back?’ But we did get a lot of good feedback about the hearts and the flute shaped and so on, so I think we are always going to keep everyone waiting to see what happens next year,” she said.

Biester Priebe does believe though that attendance will be boosted with the return of the boot mug.

What’s new?

Besides the return of the boot mug, the Christkindlmarket is also welcoming a new mug for the Kinder Club. Peppermint the Penguin is the new mug this year for our kids - so hot chocolate and cider can be served in those and enjoyed.

Biester Priebe said Peppermint is super limited, though so she urges everybody to come early and get Peppermint.

Also brand new this year is the Timber Tent.

“A little bit like an alpine, chalet feel right here in the heart of downtown Chicago. And then again to get everybody into the holiday spirit and the mood for the holidays, this is a nice place to do it and it is definitely nice and warm, too,” she said.

An added benefit to the Grand Timber Haus is that you can make reservations to have a reserved table and food service. Guests can reserve a private, festively decorated Stammtisch table in the Grand Timber Haus for a small gathering or host a reception in the Festival Tent.

"So to be able to sit down and just have food served to them instead of standing in line and it's a great opportunity. The reservations can be made online directly with dates and times it is usually up to two hours, up to eight individuals at a table. And we take the hassle out of the holiday and serve you,” Biester Priebe said.

In terms of new vendors, a fan favorite that was a pop-up in the past now has a permanent home at the Christkindlmarket - Bob's Belgium Hot Chocolate.

“If you haven't had this hot chocolate, you've missed out, so please come down, get your Peppermint Penguin and get that hot chocolate. It's decadent and I hear calories don't count during the holidays,” Biester Priebe said.

Getting There:

The official address of the Christkindlmarket Chicago is 50 W. Washington St., Chicago.

Consider taking public transportation:

Metra Stop: Union Station 

CTA Stops:

  • Blue Line: Washington/Dearborn
  • Red Line: State/Lake
  • Green, Purple, Orange, Pink, and Brown: Clark/Lake 

Parking:

Please note that there is very limited street or metered parking available around the market. Christkindlmarket recommends booking convenient and affordable parking in advance through SpotHero.

InterPark parking garages also have multiple locations near the Christkindlmarket Chicago. You can also purchase parking in advance with one of their garages.