One German’s guide to the Daley Plaza Christkindlmarket
By SELENA FRAGASSI For Sun-Times Media December 12, 2013 9:20AM
♦ 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays) through Dec. 24
♦ Daley Plaza on Washington Street between Clark and Dearborn streets, Chicago
♦ Admission, free
Updated: January 14, 2014 11:31AM
If you’ve ever walked by Daley Plaza during the holiday season, you’ll notice it looks a bit … different. While the rustic red-and-white-striped wooden huts might appear to be a siege by a rogue band of gnomes, it’s actually the site of a lavish German holiday tradition. It’s called Christkindlmarket, and it pays homage to the popular yearly attraction in Nuremberg, Germany, dating back to the 16th century.
Now in its 18th year in Chicago, this festive outdoor market is filled with food, drinks, entertainment and shopping and has become one of the largest and most respected replicas in the United States, which is why Germans like myself flock every year during its four-week stay in December. But, American friends, don’t just think you can get a bratwurst and go. Instead, here are some secret tips on how to really enjoy the festival like a true German:
Be touched by an angel
New for 2013, Chicago has its very own roving Christkind, the namesake of the festival. You’ll be able to spot her easily. She looks like Goldilocks and will be the only one wearing gold and white robes and a crown. The Christkind is the German version of Santa Claus who, like the big man, is the bearer of presents on Christmas Eve, the celebrated holiday in German families. Christkind visits the marketplace daily from 2-4 p.m. through Dec. 22.
Look for pigs and pickles
Both are good luck symbols in German culture. Edible marzipan pigs are given as a gift of good luck in the new year. The symbolism originated with German farm families who thought themselves lucky if they had a pig, and therefore enough meat to survive the long winter. Pickle ornaments are also a longstanding tradition in German families: whoever finds the hidden pickle on the tree first receives an extra present. Find yours in the Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas store with one of the world’s largest ornament collections.
Skip the ketchup
It’s not just a Chicago thing; putting ketchup on any German sausage is also a crime. Bratwurst is the most popular choice and traditionally should be eaten without a bun and loaded with sauerkraut and spicy mustard. Other authentic treats to try: 20 varieties of roasted nuts and lebkuchen, which is the best gingerbread this side of Munich.
Dessert for dinner
Hearty German strudel (not the grocery story kind) is often eaten as a main course for dinner, so you won’t be breaking any rules if you choose to do the same. Get free samples of strudel and the fruitcake stollen at the Dinkel’s Bakery hut. The bakery has been a staple in Chicago since 1922 and was started by a Bavarian immigrant whose authentic recipes are upheld now.
Be there at 12 sharp
Visitors at Christkindlmarket at noon each day will be entered to win the chance to open the corresponding Advent calendar door with a special gift inside from one of the nearly 60 vendors. This giant 6-foot attraction is a replica of traditional Advent calendars that are used by impatient Europeans to count down the days until Christmas.
Many of the vendors are flown in from Germany, and while they speak English, make them feel at home while they’re freezing their hands off serving your crepes and potato pancakes. Keep these phrases handy: “Danke schoen” (thank you), “bitte schoen” (you’re welcome) and “Frohliche Weihnachten” (Merry Christmas).
This is the German word for a toast or cheers. Beer tents don’t expire in Germany after Oktoberfest. But at Christkindlmarket, the drink of choice is Gluhwein, a mulled wine that is served warm and in a collectible mug to remember Christkindlmarket until next year.