For more than two decades, Chicago’s German-style has set the tone for the holiday season. Now, it’s taking the fun on the road with an all-new experience right on the Fox River.
Christkindlmarket is a beloved holiday market that traces its history way back to 16th century Germany. Individuals and families throughout the greater Chicago area are familiar with this popular attraction since it arrived in downtown Chicago in 1996. Every year since, it’s brought vendors from throughout Germany who proudly showcase and sell authentic Christmas ornaments and holiday gifts along with cold brews, hot beverages and favorite foods. It brings true German holiday spirit, traditions and experiences.
The popular market runs this year from Nov. 18 through Dec. 24 at its familiar spot in Chicago’s Daley Plaza and a second location in Wrigleyville.
Suburban residents are also excited to find a new, third location that brings all of the Christkindlmarket magic a little closer to home. Aurora’s RiverEdge Park welcomes an exciting extension of the market every Thursday through Sunday from Nov. 18 through Dec. 24. It opens at 11 a.m. and closes Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 9 p.m., and Sundays at 6 p.m.
RiverEdge Park’s beautiful outdoor entertainment environment now resembles a cozy village nestled along the Fox River, where visitors can find authentic wooden huts and international vendors; taste and drink hearty, delicious German food, beers and hot chocolates; and listen to local musical entertainment while also taking part in a variety of family-friendly events.
How was Aurora chosen as the outdoor Christkindlmarket’s third holiday location?
“We were out in Oak Brook in 2007 and Naperville from 2016 to 2018 and wanted to bring Christkindlmarket back to the western suburbs,” says Kate Bleeker, vice president of German American Events LLC, a subsidiary of The German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest Inc. (GACC Midwest). “Our team looked at many sites and Aurora was selected. We have truly wonderful partners in the City of Aurora and the Aurora Civic Center Authority. We started our conversation nearly three years ago and are very excited that everything has come to fruition. It truly was a labor of love on everyone’s part to get it done.”
Civic Center Authority officials were more than happy to sit down and discuss details regarding this highly popular, widely known event.
“Before the pandemic, Kate reached out to us for a site visit,” recalls Jim Jarvis, vice president of programming/sales for RiverEdge Park. “We had many conversations about all of the moving parts behind the scenes and were very happy to work out all of the details. There was great collaboration between all three organizations, and we are so happy to bring this world-class event to Aurora for years to come.”
Christkindlmarket is the most authentic German-style traditional holiday outdoor market of its kind outside of Europe. No wonder the Chicago-area market was named one of the Top 10 Holiday Markets by USA Today.
Admission to the Christkindlmarket is always free. Patrons are encouraged to walk through the outdoor market and enjoy browsing and buying the vendors’ goods, listening to live music, and partaking in family-friendly events. There’s no better time to take in the authentic German atmosphere, explore every corner and be dazzled by the sheer variety of more than 40 vendors throughout RiverEdge Park.
Holiday shopping for a special and unique gift is easy at Christkindlmarket. Among the vendors coming to Aurora is one of the most famous Christmas stores in the world, hailing from Rothenberg, Germany. “Kathe Wohlfahrt of America has a beautiful walk-in booth filled with holiday ornaments, pyramids and nativity scenes,” Beeker says.
In addition, other vendors provide international flair with handmade, natural felt and silk products; pottery; jewelry from all over the world; hand-woven alpaca scarves and shawls and plush, handmade stuffed animals.
Still more vendors serve up cold-weather comfort food from the likes of Pierogi Factory, Jour Des Crepes and Sweet Castle.
“We have authentic, imported German beers and steins, and our popular hot spiced wine, named ‘gluhwein,’” Beeker says. “You can also enjoy Bob’s Belgian hot chocolate, eat a bratwurst, and try the mouth-watering, delicious European-style baked, grilled, melted raclette cheese sandwich.”
The most popular item at every Christkindlmarket is the one-of-a-kind souvenir mug. This year brings two commemorative Christkindlmarket mugs: the Dancing Mug and the Penguin Mug. The Dancing Mug, inspired by Chicago’s “Year of the Dance,” depicts people celebrating the joys of the season. The Penguin Mug is part of the market’s non-alcoholic beverage mug series. It showcases a dancing girl penguin wearing a traditional German dress and holding this year’s Christkindlmarket ornament.
Christkindlmarket is also widely known for its authentic family-friendly events. Stop and enjoy a variety of musical and dance entertainers onstage, including authentically dressed German dance groups, ballet dancers, performing arts groups and a cappella singers.
There are many activities for children, including the passport activity book they can pick up at the information desk in the vendor area.
Children will enjoy the folklore of “Christkind,” the namesake of Christkindlmarket, whose folklore dates back to the 1500s. “Children will be able to meet Christkind, a fairy-like being dressed in gold and white robes with a crown upon her golden locks,” notes Beeker.
Christkind appears every Sunday from 2-4 p.m., including her visit to the festive Children’s Lantern Parade.
Putting on such a large holiday event takes teamwork.
“We’ll serve as co-managers working alongside the vendors to make sure everything is running smoothly,” says Jarvis. “It’s an exciting time for Aurora as we have hired over 100 local people from the area who will serve as greeters, servers and bartenders at Christkindlmarket. Our hope is that this event will find a special home here in Aurora at RiverEdge Park. We invite everyone to come out and give Christkindlmarket a warm welcome.”
Beeker agrees. “There is something for everybody to enjoy at Christkindlmarket,” she says. “With all of our busy lives, it’s a special place to slow down with family and friends, be together and celebrate the holiday season.”
Visitors to Christkindlmarket at RiverEdge Park, which is across the street from the Aurora train station, will find plenty of convenient parking on both sides of the Fox River, plus a rideshare pickup and drop-off service.
More detailed information on vendors, events, parking, hours and more can be found on the market’s social media sites on Instagram and Facebook, and at christkindlmarket.com/aurora.
When Christkindlmarket arrived in Chicago in 1996, it was the hope of The German American Chamber of Commerce leaders to bring the cultural spirit of the German community and its traditions to Chicago. That holiday spirit is now well enshrined within our region’s cultural scene.
“The event really took off, and we are grateful that it keeps growing,” says Beeker.