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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 cup of warm Glühwein to sip and a cone of sugared almonds to munch while shopping.

Here are some of the best Old World Christmas markets in 2018.

Nov. 16-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. Kinder Tap is Dec. 5, and there are musical performances and/or visits from the Christkind nearly every day.

For more, see Chicago at Christmas.

Nov. 17, 23-24 and 27 and 30-Dec. 2 and 7-8, 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.

Drinking Gluehwein at a Christkindlmarkt.

© Beth Gauper

Visitors drink hot spiced wine at Chicago's Christkindlmarket.

Santa arrives Nov. 27 during the Parade of Lights and Sinterklaas in an evening procession Dec. 7.

Nov. 17-Dec. 24 and Dec. 26-31, Christkindlmarket in Milwaukee. The Chicago Christkindlmarket expands with this open-air, German-style market in the plaza outside Fiserve Forum arena downtown.

Nov. 23-25, Nov. 29-Dec. 2 and Dec. 6-9, 13-16 and 20-23, Holidazzle in Minneapolis. This holiday village in Loring Park, on the edge of downtown, features free admission and weekend entertainment that includes movies, music, dance, ice-skating and Santa appearances.

Opening day includes fireworks at 7 p.m., and there will also be fireworks every Saturday in December.

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

Nov. 23-26, Nov. 29-Dec. 2 and Dec. 6-9, 13-24, Christkindlmarket in Naperville, Ill. The Chicago Christkindlmarket has a satellite market at the historic Naperville Settlement, with music, dance and a Kinder Tap Dec. 9.

Nov. 23-25, 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's a children's lantern parade at 5 p.m. Saturday.

For more about Excelsior, see Cruising around Excelsior.

Nov. 23-25, 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. 23-24, Christkindlmarkt in Monroe, Wis. The sale in Turner Hall is small, but this cheese-country capital still has one foot in the Old World. Homemade Swiss baked goods as well as folk arts will be offered.

For more about Monroe, see Cheese country.

Blowing a naverlur at the American Swedish Institute.

© Beth Gauper

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

Nov. 30-Dec. 2 and Dec. 7-10, European Christmas Market in St. Paul. This downtown Christkindlmarkt outside Union Depot features choirs, dancers, hot mulled wine, holiday beers, European-inspired food and artisan goods.

Dec. 1, Christkindl Festival in Black River Falls, Wis. A candlelight procession and tree lighting start this traditional German market fair. There's also live reindeer, music and dance. 

Dec. 1-2, Julmarknad at the Swedish American Museum in Chicago. The Andersonville museum features a handicrafts fair with traditional Swedish food and entertainment.

Dec. 1-2, 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. 1-2, 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 both days, take the train from Duluth to Knife River and back for $15, $5 for children 3-12. It leaves at 9:30 a.m. From Knife River, the train goes to visit a grouchy troll under a bridge in Troll Canyon, $10, free for one child 12 and under, $4 for each additional child.

Dec. 6-15, 2019, 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 $7. For details, see Old World Christmas at the Osthoff.

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

Last updated on January 9, 2019