10 US Christmas markets that will make your holidays sparkle
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Picturesque as all get-out, fragrant with gingerbread and spiced wine, and overspilling with handicrafts, toys, ornaments, food and more food, it’s obvious why the European tradition of Christmas markets has proliferated here in the U.S. But not every “candy cane lane” is a genuine European Christkindlmarket.
Christmas markets, in their purest form, represent a rare chance for points-spending families to make the most of downtown hotels because the most authentic markets, in the U.S. as in Northern Europe, are located in central business districts. In fact, some hotels, such as the Kimpton Allegro in Chicago’s Loop — just around the corner from that city’s market in Daley Plaza — offer special Christkindlmarket packages.
Here’s a rundown of U.S. Christmas markets that most closely replicate the real thing:
Christkindlmarket Chicago, now in its 23rd year, sets the standard to the degree that its sponsor, the German-American Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, has become the de facto consultant to other cities that aspire to Christkindlmarket greatness. The Chicago market draws 1 million people annually and has spawned Wrigleyville and Milwaukee locations.
A sure indication of authenticity for U.S. markets is the presence of Kathe Wohlfahrt of America, the American outpost of the German company of the same name. Kathe Wohlfahrt quickly recognized the potential in the Chicago market and went all-in to bring a selection of its tens of thousands of decorations to a pop-up shop by the Chicago market’s second year. Now, KW anchors nine markets in the U.S., collaborating with local German groups to ensure authenticity.
Literally meaning “Christ Child Market,” the Christkindlmarket “unites cherished German and European tradition with international flair and local charm.” Its namesake, the Christkind, is a golden fairy in white robes — the German equivalent of Santa Claus. The Christkindlmarket Chicago, which began in 1996, is one of the nation’s oldest German holiday markets and continues to be the city’s largest open-air Christmas festival.
This year, Christkindlmarket Chicago will be packed with German-speaking vendors — making it a good place to practice speaking the language. There will be vendor interviews and singing of German holiday songs.A Kinder Club for children 14 and under (free membership) will keep kids busy with a Passport activity book and a scavenger hunt where they can learn more about German culture while exploring the market.
Christkindlmarket Chicago will be held at Daley Plaza from Nov. 15 to Dec. 24, and is free to attend.
Nearby points hotels
- Kimpton Hotel Allegro — from 40k IHG Rewards Club points per night
- Kimpton Gray Hotel — from 50k IHG Rewards Club points per night
- Palmer House a Hilton Hotel — 25k–60k Hilton Honors points per night
- LondonHouse Chicago, Curio Collection by Hilton — 27k–70k Hilton Honors points per night
- The Drake, a Hilton Hotel — 27k–70k Hilton Honors points per night
- Hampton Inn Majestic Chicago Theatre District — 27k–60k Hilton Honors points per night
- Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago — from 15k World of Hyatt points per night
- Hyatt Regency Chicago — from 12k World of Hyatt points per night
- Or, stay at any of these Marriott Category 5 properties (35k points per night on standard dates): Residence Inn Chicago Downtown/Loop, W Chicago Lakeshore, Sheraton Grand Chicago, Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel and The Westin Chicago River North
Atlanta Christkindl Market
The city’s first and largest winter holiday festival, the Atlanta Christkindl Market features traditional products and crafts from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, including nutcrackers and wooden toys, Christmas pyramids, German incense smokers, beer steins, German lace products, one-of-a-kind items handmade on site and many more.
Bring the kids along to meet Santa and the Christkind, as well as join workshops, listen to stories and sing songs. German Christmas cookies, candied nuts, quarkballchen (pastry), stollen (traditional cake with candied fruits and nuts) and other authentic German food will fuel kids and adults on the go. Those who drink should try Gluhwein, a mulled wine made from red wine, cinnamon, herbs and spices.
Atlanta’s Christkindl Market offers pure, good fun for the whole family. Even better: Proceeds go to the GAC-Foundation to help foster, promote and sponsor the German language and culture. The Christkindl Market is free and runs from Nov. 21 to Dec. 23 at Centennial Olympic Park.
Nearby points hotels
- The American Hotel Atlanta Downtown – a DoubleTree by Hilton — 28k–50k Hilton Honors points per night
- Hilton Atlanta — 23k–50k Hilton Honors points per night
- The Candler Hotel Atlanta, Curio Collection by Hilton — 60k Hilton Honors points per night
- Hilton Garden Inn Atlanta Downtown — 60k Hilton Honors points per night
- Hyatt Regency Atlanta — from 8k World of Hyatt points per night
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Atlanta Downtown — from 30k IHG Rewards Club points per night
- Hotel Indigo Atlanta Downtown — from 35k IHG Rewards Club points per night
- Or these Marriott properties: AC Hotel Atlanta Downtown (Category 4, from 25k Marriott points per night on standard dates); Category 5, from 35k Marriott points per night on standard dates: Atlanta Marriott Marquis, W Atlanta and The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta; Category 6, from 50k Marriott points per night on standard dates: The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta
Christmas Village in Philadelphia
From Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve at LOVE Park, Christmas Village in Philadelphia will be all decked in thousands of lights and the smell of delicious food, such as bratwurst, gluhwein, lebkuchen (gingerbread) and more. Traditional timber booths will house more than 80 vendors selling classic holiday treats, and local and authentic European products. Beverage-lovers also have plenty of options, with wine tastings on Monday and Tuesdays (Dec. 1–23), beer tastings on Thursdays and a happy hour on Wednesdays.
Meet the original Christkind from Nuremberg, Germany, who will recite her prologue during the opening ceremony on Dec. 1, 2019. Or join the German American Weekend (Dec. 14–15) where German food will be shared by all while enjoying traditional dances and songs from a German choir.
Kids have plenty of activities to choose from. On Dec. 6, St. Nikolaus Day, Santa (aka St. Nikolaus) will be filling children’s boots with sweet treats. There’s a storytime with the Free Library of Philadelphia, a lantern parade and a carousel. The local ACME will also be giving kids a free treat if they complete coloring a page on their Santa’s Secret Scavenger Hunt and Coloring Book. And, if Santa’s not enough, there will be a Mascot Weekend, where mascots from local schools, sports teams and businesses will show off their moves in a dance-off; proceeds go to the Mascots for a Cure to help fight childhood cancer.
Nearby points hotels
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Philadelphia Center City — 40k–50k Hilton Honors points per night
- The Logan Philadelphia, Curio Collection by Hilton — 39k–60k Hilton Honors points per night
- Kimpton Hotel Palomar Philadelphia or Kimpton Hotel Monaco Philadelphia — both available from 55k IHG Rewards Club points per night
- Or any of these Marriott Category 5 properties (from 35k points per night on standard dates) — Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, The Westin Philadelphia, Le Méridien Philadelphia, The Notary Hotel, Autograph Collection or the Category 6 Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia from 50k points per night on standard dates
Christmas Village in Baltimore
Christmas Village in Baltimore is an outdoor and indoor holiday market at West Shore Park in the Inner Harbor. From Nov. 28 to Dec. 24, 2019, the Christmas Village will feature 50 vendors in traditional timber booths selling holiday food and drink, as well as various products. There’s a full German Delikatessen store where you can buy German sweets, honey, coffee and more. Typical German goodies like bratwurst and schnitzel are available, as well as original Nuremberg Gluhwein and Hofbrau beer from Munich.
Every weekend at the Kids Corner, there will be kids crafts, and the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland will be teaching children how to make traditional German and European Christmas cards.
The Christmas market is decked with thousands of lights, but on Dec. 7, it will be even brighter with a lantern parade. Kids will carry a traditional Christmas lantern which they created and walk the market with St. Nicholas. The Christmas market will also have a big Holiday Tree, a Ferris wheel and a Christmas Pyramid. Plus, there will be balloon artists and face painters.
Nearby points hotels
- Hyatt Regency Baltimore Inner Harbor — from 12k World of Hyatt points per night
- Kimpton Hotel Monaco Baltimore Inner Harbor — from 35k IHG Rewards Club points per night
- Holiday Inn Baltimore-Inner Harbor (Dwtn) and Staybridge Suites Baltimore – Inner Harbor — both available from 25k IHG Rewards Club points per night
- Pier 5 Hotel Baltimore, Curio Collection by Hilton — from 38k–60k Hilton Honors points per night
- Or any of these Category 5 Marriott properties from 35k points per night on standard dates: Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel and Delta Hotels Baltimore Inner Harbor
Peoples Gas Holiday Market (Pittsburgh)
Now in its eighth year, the Peoples Gas Holiday Market will be held at Market Square from Nov. 22 to Dec. 23. Browse through Alpine-style wooden chalets for some high-quality holiday gifts. There will be daily performances from school choirs, dance groups, acoustic artists and local musicians. A light show will make the sky sparkle each evening to the beat of holiday music medleys. Give a donation to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and get a free photo with Santa at Santa’s House. Or, join the Holiday Karaoke contest from Nov. 25 to Dec. 17 for a chance to win a $1,000 grand prize.
Nearby points hotels
- Hilton Garden Inn Pittsburgh Downtown — 40k–50k Hilton Honors points per night
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Pittsburgh Downtown — 39k–50k Hilton Honors points per night
- Distrikt Hotel Pittsburgh, Curio Collection by Hilton — 29k–50k Hilton Honors points per night
- Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh — from 45k IHG Rewards Club points per night
- EVEN Hotel Pittsburgh Downtown — from 20k IHG Rewards Club points per night
- Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown — 30k Wyndham Rewards points per night
- Hyatt Place Pittsburgh-North Shore — from 15k World of Hyatt points per night
- Or, this Category 4 Marriott property, the AC Hotel by Marriott Pittsburgh Downtown from 25k points per night or these Category 5 properties — Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel, Sheraton Pittsburgh Hotel at Station Square and The Westin Pittsburgh — from 35k points per night on standard dates
Texas Christkindl Market (Arlington)
Texas Christkindl Market was inspired by the decades-long relationship between Arlington and its sister city, Bad Konigshofen. Working with its partner Christmas city, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the Texas Christkindl Market aims to bring the European Christmas market experience to the state.
This year, the free event will be held at the North Plaza at Globe Life Field (next to Texas Live!) from Nov. 29 to Dec. 22. Festive food and drinks, along with music and performances, will make the season more cheerful. More than 20 holiday vendors will be selling collectibles and handcrafted gifts that will feature designs from the Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Village.
A 30-foot Christmas Tree towers above the holiday crowd, and a 5,000-square-foot outdoor skating rink will be open until January 12 (Admission is $16 and includes skate rental). A KinderClub provides kids with exclusive Christkindl coloring pages and a special letter to St. Nikolaus, which they can drop off at the Christmas market.
Nearby points hotels
- Holiday Inn Arlington NE-Rangers Ballpark and Crowne Plaza Suites Arlington – Ballpark – Stadium — both available from 30k IHG Rewards Club points
- Sheraton Arlington Hotel — Category 5, from 35k points per night on standard dates
- Doubletree by Hilton Arlington DFW South — 28k–40k Hilton Honors points per night
- Hilton Arlington — 35k–50k Hilton Honors points per night
- Hyatt Place Dallas/Arlington — from 8k World of Hyatt points per night
Christmas City (Bethlehem, PA)
Recognized as one of the top holiday markets in North America, the Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is a highlight of Christmas City. This year’s event will feature plenty of shopping opportunities, from handmade works of more than 150 artisans to four tents filled with holiday gifts, food and drinks and more. German company Kathe Wohlfarht will be present, along with unique items such as alpaca clothing and boxed gift sets of wild meats like venison, elk, buffalo and wild boar.
Once you’ve found the perfect gift, visit the U.S. Postal Service’s Big Blue Box, a giant blue mailbox near the Christmas tree, and pay a flat rate to ship your gift (available Thursdays to Sundays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
Families with young kids, or anyone still enamored with Santa Claus, can have breakfast with the man himself on select dates. Breakfast with St. Nicholas includes a hot breakfast, photo and Crayola goody bags (Tickets are $18.95 for 10 and older, $15.95 for ages 3–9 and $9.95 for 2 and under). The Banana Factory Arts Center will also be holding a free holiday kids crafts event, where little ones can learn to make holiday-themed crafts with the entire family.
The Christkindlmarkt opened on Nov. 22 and runs every weekend until Dec. 22, 2019, at the PNC Plaza at SteelStacks. Admission starts at $6 (plus a ticket service fee) for children 6–12 and $10 (plus fee) for adults; season passes are also available. Pets are allowed on Friday nights; the $5 admission includes a free photo package with St. Nicholas.
Nearby points hotels
- Hyatt Place Bethlehem — from 8k World of Hyatt points per night
- Comfort Suites Bethlehem Near Lehigh University and LVI Airport — from 16k Choice Privileges points per night
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Bethlehem — from 35k IHG Rewards Club points per night
European-style markets hosted by German clubs
Just as most cities and large towns in Germany host their own markets, German clubs in smaller cities across the U.S. have created their own annual Christkindlmarkets.
In Cincinnati, nostalgic members of the Germania Club founded its market 20 years ago, right down to a cuckoo clock vendor. Celebrating its 22nd year, the Germania Christkindlmarkt is the “oldest and most authentic German Christmas Market in the Cincinnati region.” German music fills the air, and traditional German food (such as dill pickle soup and Germania’s famous sauerkraut balls) and drinks (gluhwein, bier, schnapps, Jagermiester, etc.) abound. Shop for German clothing and goods in the comfort of enclosed, heated tents, and watch out for Santa Claus and his missus, as well as the German Sankt Nikolaus, Christkind and Krampus. Held every year on the weekend before Thanksgiving, this year’s Christkindlmarkt featured a children’s lantern parade and raffles, including the much-awaited Sleigh of Cheer filled with bier, wien, schnapps, liquor and other goodies.
In the very small town of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, (the nearest metro area s Harrisburg), the Mifflinburg Christkindl Market (Dec. 12–14, 2019) was conceived to closely capture the feel of markets in smaller European locales, like Muenster and Ludwigsburg (part of the Stuttgart area). This year, highlights include a live nativity at the main entrance on the Lutheran Church grounds and local artist Sarah Miller creating prune men, a treasured item at these markets worldwide. There will be continuous indoor and outdoor entertainment, plus a lantern parade, along with the mainstay German food, drinks and holiday gift items. Kids can have fun at Kinderworld’s Gingerbread House, Elf School and Peek-a-boo Doll House, while adults send cards or mail stamped with the annual Christkindl cancellation stamp.
At Indiana’s Carmel Christkindlmarkt, a towering 33-foot German-built Gluhwein Pyramid dispenses about 11 varieties of the German mulled wine and is lit by more than 3,000 lights. This pyramid is a traditional Christmas feature in German markets and debuted just last year.
Scheduled from Nov. 16 to Dec. 24, 2019, the Carmel Christkindlmarkt is in its third year. Market-goers will have plenty to see and buy at the 52 vendor huts selling Steinbach Volkskunst nutcrackers and smokers, Black Forest cuckoo clocks, Andean wool garments, wooden Schwibbogen, handmade reifendrehen-style toys and figurines, traditional German folk art and wood art, Polish pottery and more. There’s also an ice skating rink, woodworking demos and crafting workshops, a holiday trolley, and a museum that showcases German Christmas traditions and German history in Indiana.
Featured image of Christmas Village in Philadelphia courtesy of Russ Brown Photography.
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