Chicago is distinctly jollier this December thanks to the return of the Christkindlemarket, the German-inspired holiday fair that has brought Christmas merriment to the city for a quarter century. A beloved ritual for many locals and visitors, the market’s reemergence is now especially meaningful, as last year’s events were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, organizers are spreading even more cheer at Daley Plaza and Gallagher Way in Wrigleyville.
Families and groups of friends have trooped out since mid-November to grin at each other over beer steins, peruse an selection of candies and tree ornaments in nearly every shape and color, and bounce along to the musical stylings of a lederhosen-clad Oompah band. The Daley Plaza location remains open through December 24, while Wrigleyville stays open through December 31.
Patrons aren’t the only ones delighted to see the market resembling its former self: local and European food vendors are also happy to be back, as most were left by the wayside by last year’s virtual pivot. Organizers didn’t have the delivery infrastructure to produce and transport classics like like bratwurst and raclette, which left vendors without a valuable opportunity to introduce their brands to new customers.
“There was never any question of [the market] not coming back,” director of operations Kate Bleeker told Eater in September. “Last year with all the cancelations, it was hard on all the vendors. They’re all small business owners and had a hard time making it through.”
In Daley Plaza, attendees can find traditional hits like hot-off-the-griddle potato pancakes, strudel from the legendary Dinkel’s Bakery, and kebabs and currywurst from DönerMen. There’s also plenty of Glühwein — a hot, spiced wine that does double duty as a hand- and belly-warmer — served in the Christkindlemarket’s annual keepsake mug.
The scene does look a lot like the Before Times, but pandemic safety remains a concern. Market attendees are required to wear masks in all indoor spaces, but face coverings are optional (though highly encouraged) in outdoor sections when not actively eating and drinking.
Though last year’s virtual market was a relative success (eager buyers even crashed the its website), the palpable excitement of current market crowds confirms that nothing can replace the magic of the real, live Christkindlemarket. Explore the downtown market in all its festive glory in the photos below.
Christkindlemarket Chicago; Daley Plaza at 50 W. Washington Street; Open through December 24; Gallagher Way at 3635 N. Clark Street; Open through December 31.