The holiday season marks downtown with a big, slobbery Christmas kiss.
Buyers, beware: We are in the midst of an expensive season. Even if you didn't just blow your paycheck on the post-Thanksgiving 5 a.m. shopping extravaganza (Stop chewing! Start charging!), a month of gift buying is about to kick into high gear (the rest of the calendar year I reserve for purchasing gifts for myself). But sometimes shopping is a distant second to enjoying the season itself.
And who can blame us? We see all the city's holiday decorations go up, the State Street store window displays come to life and we need a little holly and a little 'nog right this very minute, Auntie Mame! But once you add up how much you spent on sweater sets for mom and DIY sushi kits for friends (because nothing says happy holidays like seaweed paper, chopsticks and raw fatty tuna), you may start to feel a little guilty about your desire to spend some evenings out on the town listening to carols and sipping cocktails.
This is the season of giving, but you need to give to yourself, too. Ohh, the dilemma. So thank you, Chicago, for providing an option that combines low-cost, seasonal fun with the option to shop: Christkindlmarket Chicago, located at Daley Plaza between Clark and Washington and Dearborn, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and runs through Dec. 22.
When wandering downtown last weekend with my parents: a very Christmas-loving Mom and a Dad who alternates between openly hating the holidays and starring in our family's own informal production of "A Christmas Carol" as the Ghost of Christmas Pissed, we decided to stop by. We went last year, too, drawn in by its red-and-white striped tents and promises of seasonal delight.
And while it's definitely more befitting of my mom's taste (there's a staggering amount of holly), the German music and other assorted eye catchers (like the big model train) provided plenty of distraction for my dad whenever he began to remember we were surrounded by Christmas celebrations and crowds, neither of which he would describe as a "fan favorite."
Here's why you should go to Christkindlmarket Chicago:
It's kid-tested, Germany-approved: Germany apparently loves Christmas, as the beer-slinging country is rumored to host more than 2,500 Christmas markets. Our version, the Christkindlmarket, was inspired by the famous German Christmas market in Nurnberg, which dates back to 1545. Not only is it closer to travel to, the Chicago market allows you the opportunity to buy fleece afterwards at nearby Old Navy. Chicago: 1, Deutschland, 0.
People love it: Attracting more than 1.3 million customers a year, Christkindlmarket Chicago is said to be one of the country's biggest Christmas markets. Many of the event vendors, such as Plauener Lace and Hoffman Company wood ornaments, import items directly from Germany.
The puppet factor: I didn't see any, but I have heard there are or will be puppets wandering around. (Perhaps frightening, but more likely, fun.)
There is a big Christmas tree: And who doesn't love an decked-out tree?
It's cheap: Witness Bavarian glass blowers! Ride on a tiny merry-go-round! Or just watch the throngs of tourists flood the square (also entertaining). You can get a cuckoo clock from the Black Forest at Christkindlmarket (hello, holiday gift); you can also get bratwurst. The food is, for the most part, not pricey. You can fill yourself with $3 spiced apple cider and warm pretzels for a dollar or so more. And to German food fans, the chance to buy a tasty stolen (a bread of sorts) is a steal at any price.
It's free…with music!: If you're looking for even more of a holiday bargain, the free admission should qualify. Wander, take in the Christmas crafts and listen to the weekly music performers with no cost to you. On our visit, we heard the tubariffic tunes of the Glen Sorgatz Brass Band, who wanders the square every Saturday and Sunday from 1-4 p.m. through Dec. 18. Other performers, including the Canterbury Carolers and German American Kinder Choir, are scheduled to appear. And truly, the music makes the event: It resonates throughout the square so you feel like you walked into a German Christmas village, or, at the very least, a musical about a German Christmas village.
Christkindlmarket Chicago kicked off last week and runs seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m., depending on the day. Interested in taking in some European Christmas culture? Good news: You can do it while also taking in some strudel. Mmmm. Strudel. Want to find out more? Visit www.christkindlmarket.com or just stop by Daley Plaza.