Otherwise known as gingerbread, Germans have turned the cookies into an artful holiday experience. You'll see huge, heart-shaped cookies decorated with frosting and etched with German phrases all over the market. They make great edible gifts that keep for a long time, if they're not gobbled up on the spot.
Nothing says holiday cheer more than the fanciful wooden soldier nutcrackers immortalized in the play of the same name. There are other characters to choose from, including old St. Nick, but the most traditional is the bearded soldier. Kids and interior design buffs alike will love them.
Whether you love local craft beers or thick German brews, beer steins are always a popular choice. Originating in the 1500s in small towns along the Rhine River, the intricately designed mugs are prized for their craftsmanship and ornamentation. Many people enjoy collecting steins made from different material, including copper, glass and wood so browse through the different displays for the perfect find.
Germany boasts an established glass blowing tradition so the variety and artistry of the glass ornaments are phenomenal. The all-time favorite ornament at Christkindlmarket is the German Christmas pickle. Based on a bogus German tradition of hiding a pickle in the Christmas tree branches and rewarding kids who find it with an extra present and adults with luck and prosperity for the year. nobody in Germany recognizes this century-old custom but that doesn't stop shoppers from snapping up pickle ornaments.
This traditional holiday bread is filled with chopped fruit and covered with powdered sugar for a lighter variation of fruit cake. It is typically served throughout the Advent season in Germany and makes a sweet, flavorful gift. You can pick up loaves at several German vendors as well as the German American Dinkel's Bakery, a Chicago institution.
The annual Christkindlmarket is FREE and located in the Loop's Daley Plaza at 50 W. Washington Street during the holiday season. The market also features music and dance performances, as well as visits with the "fairy" Christkind. Visit christkindlmarket.com for a full calendar and vendor info.
Additional photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates