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Old World Christmas markets

Local versions of the traditional German Christkindlmarkt are a hit during the holidays.

Santa arrives at Excelsior's Christkindlsmarkt.

© Beth Gauper

Santa's arrival kicks off the Christkindlmarkt weekend in Excelsior, Minn.

For 500 years, Germans have done their holiday shopping at open-air Christmas markets in town squares.

Named for the Christ child, the markets traditionally start on the first Sunday of Advent, with shoppers warming up with hot spiced wine while browsing at garland-draped timber kiosks.

It's a tradition worth importing, and that's what Chicago did in 1996 with its Christkindlmarket, where two-thirds of the vendors come from Germany.

It's become more popular every year, and now many other towns — from the shores of Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota to Wisconsin cheese country and the ethnic enclaves of Michigan — have markets of their own.

Many include parades, especially the traditional children's lantern procession. There's always live music, and you can usually count on getting a cone of warm sugared almonds to munch while shopping.

Here are some of the best Old World Christmas markets in 2015.

Nov. 19-22, Best Christkindlmarket Milwaukee. Mader's Restaurant and Best Place at Historic Pabst Brewery bring this market to Milwaukee, with storytelling, dancing, cookie-decorating and appearances by Father Christmas. And beer, of course.

Nov. 20-Dec. 24, Christkindlmarket in Chicago. This is the most authentic market, with many German vendors bringing over Old World toys, ornaments and sweets to sell in their timber booths in Daley Plaza. 

Food also is authentic — currywurst, potato pancakes, pretzels — with ingredients often brought from Germany.

The marked can be quite crowded, so try to go in the morning. The Children's Lantern Parade is Dec. 2, and there are musical performances and/or visits from the Christkind nearly every day.

For more, see Chicago at Christmas.

Drinking Gluehwein at a Christkindlmarkt.

© Beth Gauper

Visitors drink hot spiced wine at Chicago's Christkindlmarket.

Nov. 21 and 27-28 and Dec. 4-5 and 11-12, Holiday Kerstmarkt in Holland, Mich. This open-air European Christmas Market at the Eighth Street Market Place includes 16 timber booths offering Dutch imports, folk art, hand-knit apparel and other gifts.

Santa arrives Dec. 1 during the Parade of Lights and Sinterklaas in an evening procession Dec. 4.

Nov. 27-29, Dec. 3-6, 10-13 and 17-20, Holiday Market in Minneapolis. The second year of a holiday village will be in Loring Park, on the edge of downtown. It features free admission, with weekend entertainment that includes movies, music, dance, ice-skating and Santa appearances.

The opening on Nov. 27 includes a performance by the Minnesota Chorale, fireworks and a showing of the movie "Elf.'' There will also be fireworks on closing day, Dec. 20.

For Saturday visits, you can download and print a free Metro Transit bus or train pass.

Nov. 27-29, Dec. 3-6, 10-13 and 17-24, Christkindlmarket in Oak Brook, Ill. The Chicago Christkindlmarket has a satellite market at Oakbrook Center, with similar vendors and entertainment.

Nov. 27-29, Christkindlsmarkt in Excelsior, Minn. In this Minneapolis suburb on Lake Minnetonka, choirs and bands play for shoppers at a traditional German open-air Christmas market.

It begins with a grand parade at 10 a.m. Friday, and there are children's lantern parades at 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

For more about Excelsior, see Cruising around Excelsior.

Nov. 27-29, German Christmas Market in Oconomowoc, Wis. This downtown  market features vendors in outdoor huts as well as tents for music, German food, gingerbread-decorating and a beer garden.

Nov. 27-28, Christkindlmarkt in Monroe, Wis. The sale in Turner Hall is small, but this cheese-country capital still has one foot in the Old World. Father Christmas will appear, and homemade Swiss baked goods as well as folk arts will be offered.

For more about Monroe, see Cheese country.

Dec. 4-13, Old World Christmas Market at the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wis. This eastern Wisconsin market, held in a heated tent, features very good prices as well as ambiance, and some vendors come over from Germany.

Blowing a naverlur at the American Swedish Institute.

© Beth Gauper

A naverlur blows to start Julmarknad at the American Swedish Institute.

Admission is $6. For details, see Old World Christmas.

Dec. 4-5, Christkindl Festival in Black River Falls, Wis. A candlelight procession and tree lighting start this traditional German market fair. There's also live reindeer, a baby camel, horse-drawn wagon rides, music and a Christkindl Night of Lights Parade. 

Dec. 5-6, Julmarknad at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. The courtyard market at this castle-like mansion will feature a bonfire, warm glögg, handicrafts, family activities and visits with Tomte, the Swedish Christmas elf. On Saturday, there's a bake sale.

Dec. 5-6, Julebyen in Knife River, Minn. This Norwegian Christmas market on Lake Superior, between Duluth and Two Harbors, features indoor and outdoor markets, music, children's activities, skating, Norwegian food and visits from Santa and elves.

On Saturday, take the train from Duluth to Knife River and back for $10, $5 for children 3-12.

For more great places to shop during the holidays, see Shopping towns stories.

Last updated on November 20, 2015

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