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Old World Christmas markets

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

A kiosk at Christkindlmarket.

© Beth Gauper

Chicago's Christkindlmarket draws crowds to Daley Plaza.

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 2014.

Nov. 20-23, 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. 21-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. It runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve; check the schedule for the Children's Lantern Parade and concerts on Wednesdays, Fridays and weekends.

For more, see Chicago at Christmas.

Nov. 22 and 28-29 and Dec. 5-6 and 12-13, 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. 2 during the Parade of Lights and Sinterklaas in a procession Dec. 5.

The Christkindlmarkt in Excelsior.

© Beth Gauper

In Excelsior, vendors sell goods under garland-draped tents.

Nov. 28-Dec. 24, Holiday Market in Minneapolis. An outdoor German-style market is the new holiday tradition on Nicollet Mall, replacing the Holidazzle Parade.

The market is next to Orchestra Hall on Peavey Plaza. Admission is $6, $3 for children 7-12, and $3 weekdays between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Carousel rides are $3.

If you plan to travel to visit the market, you may want to check the reviews on its Facebook page.

Admission is free to Holidazzle Village on the adjoining blocks of Nicollet Mall, where there's a music stage and reindeer barn. There's music at  4:30 p.m. and/or 7 p.m. on weeknights and throughout the afternoon and evening on weekends.

On weekends, there's entertainment, including glass-blowing demonstrations Dec. 6-7, sled-dog exhibitions Dec. 13-14 and and ice-skating Dec. 20-21, starting at 3 or 3:30 p.m.

Nov. 28-30, European Christmas Market in St. Paul. The new open-air Christkindlmarkt in downtown St. Paul, on the pedestrian-only West 7th Place, features hot mulled wine, holiday beers, European-inspired food and artisan goods.

Nov. 28-30, Dec. 4-7, 11-14 and 18-24, Christkindlmarket in Oak Brook, Ill. The Chicago Christkindlmarket is opening a satellite market at Oakbrook Center, with similar vendors and entertainment.

Nov. 28-30, 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 children's lantern parade at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

For more about Excelsior, see Cruising around Excelsior.

Nov. 28-29, 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. 5-14, 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.

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

Dec. 5-6, 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. 6-7, 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.

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

Last updated on September 1, 2015

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