Chicago’s Christkindlmarket returns Friday — and there’s a new way to skip the line this year.
The market’s bustling downtown location for the first time will offer a fast-entry pass option, which for $25 guarantees priority admittance and a souvenir mug. For many Chicagoans, the outdoor market — which is free for those willing to wait in line — has become an annual tradition.
Last year, the market served up warm wine and German fare to more than 1.5 million visitors across its three locations in Daley Plaza, Wrigelyville and west suburban Aurora. Billed as the “most authentic” holiday market outside of Europe, the flagship downtown location will open at 11 a.m. Nov. 17 and continue daily through Christmas Eve.
“I think people just really enjoy coming together in this magical holiday village that we created,” said Leila Schmidt with German American Events, which puts on the market. “They get to escape for a couple of hours to try the different foods from all around the world and get to shop from all of our vendors.”
Whether the market is a yearly outing for your family or you’re checking it out for the first time, here’s what you need to know.
When are the holiday festivities happening?
The downtown market in Daley Plaza is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. On Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve the market will close at 4 p.m.
Since when are there multiple locations?
The market spread to Wrigleyville six years ago and returned to the suburbs last year. There were previously locations in Naperville and Oak Brook, and the market received requests to bring back a suburban location, Schmidt said. Last year, the inaugural Aurora market was a big success, she saidWhat do vendors sell?
Short answer: Lots of food and holiday gifts. The wooden booths, which are imported from Europe, feature offerings from nearly 60 vendors selling everything from classic German foods like bratwurst, schnitzel and pretzels to handcrafted toys and seasonal decorations. One option: Try some pickled herring like they’re serving at booth No. 4, wash it down with some hot spiced wine from booth No. 29 and head for some roasted nuts and German chocolates at the Sweet Castle — AKA booth No. 54.
If you’re there to shop for presents, vendors will be selling handcrafted scarves, ornaments, stuffed animals, puzzles, jewelry and a whole lot more.
What’s the best way to get there?
If you don’t want the headache of finding a parking spot downtown, taking the Blue Line to the Washington station will get you right there.
But if you’re planning to drive, the market organizers point visitors to Millennium Garages’s Grant Park North Garage at 25 N. Michigan Ave. Discounted parking can be purchased in advance online. The market also has some parking deals available on its website, including up to 50% off a SpotHero reservation.
When should I go to avoid the crowds?
If you can swing it, weekdays during the day, like on a lunch break, are your best bet, Schmidt said. You can also check out the other locations in Wrigleyville or Aurora, where crowds tend to be thinner than downtown.
What’s the collectible mug look like this year?
The traditional German-style mugs, which feature a new design every year, have become a must-have collector’s item for many Chicagoans. This year, each of the three locations have its own specific mug, featuring nearby landmarks. Each of the mugs share a mint-green color and rounded shape with a tapered top.
The individual mugs are $8 on their own or can also be purchased filled with a hot beverage at various vendors for a range of prices. All the designs will be available in a three-mug gift box, sold for $25 at each location’s information booth.
This year, there’s also a ceramic beer stein for sale for the first time, priced at $20. The stein can be filled with a beer on site at the downtown location or purchased at the info booths in Wrigleyville and Aurora. And finally, this year’s non-alcoholic beverage mug features a reindeer design.
There will be no online store this year, so mugs must be purchased in person.
What’s new at the Christkindlmarket this year?
The introduction of the fast-entry pass is the biggest change to this year’s festive fun. When purchasing the pass, guests will select a 30-minute window for their arrival time. Schmidt stressed that it’s important to show up on time in order to be granted priority access. Pass holders should go to the north entrance, nearest the Richard J. Daley Center.
The Aurora location in RiverEdge Park has expanded to include more than 50 vendors and new programming, like a reindeer scavenger hunt, glassblowing workshop and German wine tasting. In Wrigleyville, the market partners with the nearby Winterland at Gallagher Way, which offers activities like ice skating and an ice slide inside Wrigley Field. The Christkindlmarket is free to attend, but you’ll have to pay to go inside the ballpark.
If you’re loyal to the downtown location, a full calendar of special events happening this year can be found here in case you want to plan your visit to catch carolling or a glimpse of The Christkind — the event’s fairy-like mascot who wears white-and-gold robes and a crown. (For parents of young Frozen fans: The Christkind has a bit of an Elsa-esque vibe that may make her a hit among your kids.)
You can also host a private party for up to 100 people inside the alpine-decorated Timber Tent. Or, reserve an indoor table for eight for up to 90 minutes and choose from a drink and food package, including charcuterie with a German twist.
How did this market start in Chicago?
Inspired by the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany, which dates back to the 16th century, the initial purpose for the Chicago market was to “further bilateral trade between Germany and the U.S.,” Schmidt said.
The event’s founders invited companies from Germany to participate in the inaugural market in 1996. That year, there were 13 vendors at Pioneer Court. The next year, it moved to Daley Plaza — with a special invite from Mayor Richard M. Daley, as Schmidt tells it — where the market and its famous mugs have been every year since.
Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer/reporter at WBEZ.