I was raised by a family that believes November is for Thanksgiving and December is for Christmas. We have none of this “Christmas music on November 1st” nonsense or tree decorating before Black Friday. I don’t want to sound like a Grinch, but I find it a sacred practice not to celebrate Christmas early and I planned on following this rule until the day I died.
Then I moved to Chicago.
My roommate had warned me about the Christmas overload that would come my way when I first moved in. She also warned me that I would fall in love with all of it. I wasn’t completely convinced but didn’t think much of it until the holiday shift started to happen.
November hit, and Christmas was beginning to creep into every aspect of my daily life. The street lamps in Edgewater were being decked out with LED snowflakes and wreaths. Trains on the CTA were even being covered in lights, tinsel, and Santa sleigh cars.
I’m going to be honest, a small part of me wanted to reject all of it like a bad transplant. But as the weather started to change and the feelings of the season really started to set in, there was something magical about the Christmas evolution happening around me.
Throughout October, I had heard mentions of the Christkindlmarket from co-workers and friends. From what they said, it was one of Chicago’s biggest Christmas traditions that couldn’t be passed up. So I decided that I would try to combat my personal vendetta against early Christmas celebration by going on opening night, November 16th.
Christmas markets like the one held in Chicago are a German custom that date back to the 1300s. Traditionally, they feature holiday gifts created by tradesmen like nativity scenes, nutcrackers, and ornaments. Classic treats like gingerbread, candied nuts, bratwurst, and the iconic gluhwein (mulled wine) are eaten around the open air markets while everyone enjoys the festivities put on by performers.
Planted in the center of the Chicago Loop at Daley Plaza, there’s something heartwarming about seeing something purely European sandwiched into the bustling streets of Chicago. When I walked into the plaza, I was instantly taken aback by the smells. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, taking in the all-too-familiar scent of potato pancakes. I was instantly transported back to an open air market my friends and I visited while in the Czech Republic. Other treats like pretzels, doner kebab, and chocolates were placed strategically throughout the stands.
I continued to roam and admire the work of the many vendors featured at the market. Most of the items for sale are actually shipped in from different parts of the world. Each stall has the city of origin featured on their sign so you know exactly how far it’s come to make it to the Christkindlmarket.
There were quite a few stands featuring ornaments made out of china and glass. A personal favorite was a glass ornament made to look like a slice of pizza (surprisingly, it wasn’t deep-dish). There was a vendor completely dedicated to steins, another featured wooden figurines, and another featured adorable winter hats that looked like different animals.
My main goal at the market was to give gluhwein a try. I visited Europe right after the Christmas season, so I never got the chance to actually try the real deal. I managed to sneak myself into the line for mulled wine which, not surprisingly, was one of the longest lines in the market.
I gave the cheerful woman working the stand my $8.00 and was presented with a commemorative heart-shaped mug filled to the brim with a warm concoction of red wine and spices.
I walked around the market until my cup was empty, taking in the people and the spectacle around me. I arrived to the market around 6:00 PM and by the time 6:30 rolled around, it was almost impossible to move. You would think that after about five months in a major city, I would be use to the crowds, but part of me still can’t accept them, so I left and headed over to the Chicago Christmas Tree. The official tree lighting had happened that evening, around the time I got to the market, so I didn’t see the tree go from standard pine tree to Christmas spectacular, but it was still breathtaking all the same.
If you end up in Chicago before December 25th, go check out the Chirstkindlmarket. Get some gluhwein, buy an ornament, and eat a potato pancake. I promise it’ll put you into the holiday spirit. My evening there even solidified my acceptance that celebrating the holidays a little early never hurt anybody.