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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 the downtowns of both Twin Cities and many towns along Lake Michigan — have adopted the tradition and started markets of their own. 

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

In 2020, most Old World Christmas markets are virtual or canceled.

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. In 2020, it offers a virtual marketplace.

Food also is authentic — currywurst, potato pancakes, soft 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. 4, and there are musical performances and/or visits from the Christkind nearly every day.

For more, see Chicago at Christmas.

Christkindlmarket in Milwaukee. The Chicago Christkindlmarket expands with this open-air, German-style market in the plaza outside Fiserve Forum arena downtown. It's canceled in 2020.

Drinking Gluehwein at a Christkindlmarkt.

© Beth Gauper

Visitors drink hot spiced wine at Chicago's Christkindlmarket.

There's a Children's Lantern Parade. The Christkind visits on Sundays, and there are music and/or dance performances most other days.

Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville in Chicago. This North Side satellite of the Daley Plaza Christkindlmarket features ice-skating, wreath-making, music and Santa's Workshop as well as holiday vendors. It's canceled in 2020.

Nov. 21, 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. 

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.

It's virtual in 2020.

Normally, there are also interactive illuminated art installations, visits from rescue animals on weekends, glass-blowing and cooking demos, a Kids Zone with a climbing wall, maze and slides, and the Fulton Beer Garden, featuring board games, music and drag-queen bingo.

Opening day normally includes fireworks at 7 p.m., with more fireworks every Saturday in December.

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

Nov. 27-29 and Dec. 4-6, 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 in Excelsior Commons park on Lake Minnetonka. It's virtual in 2020.

Normally, it begins with a grand parade at 10 a.m. Friday, with a children's lantern parade at 5 p.m. Saturday. There will be rides on the NorthPole Trolley, a heated KinderWorld and Alaskan reindeer to pet.

For more about Excelsior, see Cruising around Excelsior.

Blowing a naverlur at the American Swedish Institute.

© Beth Gauper

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

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.

It's canceled in 2020.

Nov. 27-28 and Dec. 4: Kriskindlmarkt in Sparta, Wis. This outdoor market on Mueller Square and Water Street downtown includes horse-drawn wagon rides, carolers and live music.

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.

It's canceled in 2020.

Special activities include visits from Krampus and Santa, sled-dog team rides and reindeer petting; check the schedule.

Christkindlmarket in Des Moines. This market is held in Principal Park on the rivers downtown. In addition to vendors and food, there will be many performances by choirs, bands, fiddlers, carolers and dance troupes.

It's virtual in 2020, with curbside pickup of gifts Dec. 3-6.

Christkindl Festival in Black River Falls, Wis. A candlelight procession and tree lighting start this traditional German market fair. There's also live reindeer, music and dance. It's canceled in 2020.

Santa and elves at Julebyen.

© Molly Hoeg

Santa appears with his elves at the Scandinavian Julebyen in Knife River, Minn.

Dec. 5, Julmarknad at the Swedish American Museum in Chicago. The Andersonville museum features a handicrafts fair with traditional Swedish food and entertainment.

It's virtual in 2020.

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

In 2020, three or four artists will have courtyard booths each weekend.

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.

It's virtual in 2020.

On both days, take the train from Duluth to Knife River and back for $20, $8 for children 3-13. It leaves at 9:30 a.m. The adult fare includes a train ride to visit a grouchy troll under a bridge in Troll Canyon. Other visitors pay $10, $4 for children 4-12.

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.

It's canceled in 2020.

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 November 23, 2020