Christmas Markets in the US: Getting into the Holiday Spirit

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German-inspired Christmas markets are popping up across the US. Check out a few of our favorites and step into the holiday spirit.

Glittering lights reflecting off the snow. The smell of hot spiced wine and gingerbread. The sound of Christmas carols and the jingle of bells. German-inspired Christmas markets are popular throughout the US and are the perfect way to usher in the holiday season and get into the Christmas spirit. In Germany, they are called Christkindlesmarkts, markets of the Christ child. A December trip to Europe is made magical by visiting one of these beautiful markets—but don’t worry if you can’t make it to Europe this year. Christmas markets in the United States make for an annual festive outing and are the perfect way to get in the holiday spirit. Here are some of our favorites to get you in the holiday spirit.

Christkindlesmarkt History

The original Christkindlesmarkt dates to the mid-1500s in Nuremberg, Germany. Originally a way for folks to stock up on food and supplies for the long, cold winter months, the markets soon became part of the gift-giving tradition surrounding Christmas.

In Germany, Austria, and parts of Eastern Europe, the traditional gift-bearer is the Christkind (Christ child), a golden-haired angel dressed in white and gold and usually depicted as a female. The German Christkindlesmarkt opens each year with the appearance of the Christkind, who reads a prologue and welcomes guests to the holiday season.

Christmas Markets

German ornaments and toys are popular at Christmas Markets. Photo courtesy of Jim Prisching

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While markets traditionally ran only during Advent, most now begin Thanksgiving weekend (or sooner) and run until Christmas Eve.

Not-to-miss Fun at Christmas Markets

Christmas markets are an ideal place to get into the Christmas spirit. There is usually an assortment of handcrafted gifts — from toys, ornaments, and pottery to baked goods and clothing — ideal for finding something a little bit eclectic for those demanding customers on your shopping list.

Be sure, however, to treat yourself. A Christmas market is the perfect place to nibble on lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies), sip glühwein (hot spiced wine), and take home a stollen (German Christmas bread). Other favorites often include marzipan, bratwurst, pretzels, baked apples, and roasted chestnuts. Those lovely aromas wafting through the market almost scream holiday spirit.

Gingerbread Hearts

Gingerbread Hearts are a tradition at European Christmas markets. Photo courtesy of Eric James Walsh

Markets usually offer great entertainment, from Christmas carols or German folksongs to local favorites. Many markets also have ice rinks where you can strap on a pair of skates and do figure eights on a crisp December night.

Christkindlmarket Chicago

The Christkindlmarket in Chicago is directly inspired by the Nuremberg market. First held on Pioneer Court in 1996 and is now downtown in Daley Plaza, Aurora, and Wrigleyville. This is a Chicago and Illinois tradition.

The holiday village in Chicago embodies Christmas. You can find handmade ornaments of chiseled wood or blown glass. There are classic German gifts, from cuckoo clocks to nutcrackers. Don’t worry if you’re not after a German-themed gift, local vendors offer jewelry, clothing, and home decor.

Chicago Christmas Market

Chicago Christmas Market entry. Photo courtesy Christkindlmarket Chicago

You can sample candies, including delectable German chocolates, flakey pastries, and savory treats and drinks. The glühwein even comes in a souvenir cup. Be sure to catch the craftsmen who demonstrate their skills. The woodcarver is always been a favorite.

The Christkind will be part of the Grand Opening Ceremony and at the market as scheduled for photos. The market is usually open annually from mid-November through Christmas Eve.

Downtown Holiday Market, Washington DC

The Downtown Holiday Market in Washington is centered at 8th and F Streets, NW. The festival village brings the work of more than 180 regional artisans, crafters, and businesses to holiday shoppers. Each day, about 70 exhibitors rotate their wares. Many of the shops offer fair-trade imports and gifts from sustainable resources.

You should grab a cup of hot cocoa and a sweet treat as you wander through the pop-up shops. Find booths with international sweets and try something like a cinnamon churro dipped in chocolate sauce, putting the smells and tastes of Christmas all into one delicious bite.

You can also stroll along and listen to various entertainment daily, from rock, jazz, and bluegrass to gospel, folk, and holiday favorites. The event is usually open from noon to 8 p.m. daily from about a week before Thanksgiving until just before Christmas. Check online for the latest dates and times.

Denver Christkindlmarket

The Denver Christkindl Market runs mid-November through December 23 each year at Civic Center Park in downtown Denver. Organized by the German American Chamber of Commerce and the German Cultural Foundation, the Denver market is all about Old World charm and festivities. It really is a slice of Germany all dressed up for the Colorado holidays.

The Grand Opening Ceremony features Christkind, who will make her appearance at the event. Be sure to keep an eye out for the golden gift-giver throughout the festival; she may put in an appearance at any time.

Stroll through the traditional Christmas village, sampling authentic food and drink while enjoying traditional holiday songs and classic German music. Pick up warm roasted nuts, Bavarian salted pretzels, kringles (Scandinavian pastries), strudels, and more.

There are toys from Austria, paper stars from Germany, pottery from Poland, organic oils from the Colorado mountains, Alpaca clothing from Canada, and more. There are a variety of special events at the Denver Christkindl Market. The little ones will enjoy storytime in the holiday tent. To celebrate St. Nikolaus Day, Christkind and St. Nikolaus will visit the festival from 3 pm to 5 pm on St. Nikolaus Day.

Christmas Markets

Pick up a new souvenir ornament each year. Photo courtesy Christkindl Market Denver

Salt Lake City Christmas Market

Salt Lake City sparkles at Christmastime. Locals recommend the German Christkindlmarkt at a park called “This is the Place, Heritage Park.” The market, held annually on the last weekend of November, is worth a trip to Salt Lake City. The free market, with food, entertainment, and European-style treats and gifts, is open from 11 am to 8 pm.

Salt Lake City Christmas Markets

Music is continuous on the stage at the Christkindlmarkt. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

As you enter the market, a dirndl-clad singer entertains children with German songs. The smell of gingerbread and mulled cider wafts through the air. As you stroll from one little wooden shop to the next, enjoy the imported carvings, clothing, and food. Some goods are imported, and others are hand-made locally. In addition to the Christmas Market, you can take the opportunity to enjoy the pioneer buildings and history at the park.

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Plan to Attend a Christkindlmarkt

With so many Christkindlmarkts in Denver, Salt Lake City, Chicago, and Washington D.C., you should start planning your trip today. There are other Christmas markets as you explore destinations around the world or across the street. Check out Wander for great ideas on what to do during Christmas.

German-inspired Christmas markets are popping up across the US. Check out a few of our favorites and step into the holiday spirit.


Christmas Markets in the US: Getting into the Holiday Spirit

Written by Susan Lanier-Graham

Founder and publisher Susan Lanier-Graham has traveled the world for the past twenty years, filling a passport or two along the way. She has wandered through the jungles of Thailand, explored the mysteries of the Great Pyramids, and shared the night with a leopard in Zambia. She sailed in the Mediterranean, sipped her way through Burgundy canals and Champagne caves. She followed Rembrandt’s footsteps through Amsterdam. Susan found her center on the red rocks of Sedona and soaked up an exquisite sunset over the Indian Ocean in Bali. Susan is always looking for wow moments around the world or across the street to share with adventure lovers everywhere. She has authored more than 75 books and hundreds of magazine articles. Susan is an award-winning travel writer and member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). She is a Certified California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). Susan is also the managing editor of North Peoria Lifestyle, a print lifestyle publication in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. Susan's work regularly appears in print and online in a variety of publications. These include various AAA publications, Postcards for Travel Leaders,,,,, Paradise Valley City Lifestyle, Scottsdale City Lifestyle, So Scottsdale, Green Living AZ, Modern Luxury,, WHERE Arizona, WHERE Traveler Phoenix + Scottsdale, and more.

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