Daley Center Plaza, 50 West Washington Street, Chicago, IL 60602
When I was a boy, like many children, I believed in Santa Claus.
I looked forward to Christmas as soon as we entered the months that ended in “-ber”. I thought that meant cold weather was coming; and, with it—Christmas. As an only child, and with my birthday near Christmas, I hasten to say that I was a bit spoiled with love and gifts the best that my mother could give me. Some of my favorite memories originate from this time of year.
I was also a precocious child—an old soul—always questioning everything. One day, during a long shopping trip in December when I was still a young boy, my mom and I were making the rounds from store to store. It was that day when I saw Santa.
And then another Santa!
And then another Santa.
What in Sam Hill?
I thought to myself, “This Santa sure gets around; and, he knows where we’re going before we even get there!”
So, I had to take a closer look. I sat on a Santa’s lap. And then I sat on another Santa’s lap. I was test driving Santas. They sounded different, one to another. They even smelled different. And why did the subsequent Santas need to ask me what I wanted when I had already told him?
The universal explanation was that these Santas were “Santa’s Helpers”. I wasn’t buying that. The jig was up, and the curtain fell on Christmas for me as I knew it then.
Years later, Christmas became a holiday of checklists, managing time and money, and swimming upstream in traffic and stores. Christmas was a pain.
I missed my old Christmas. I didn’t miss all the presents. I didn’t miss the oversize tree that was probably flammable. I didn’t miss being a kid.
I missed the magic.
On a Saturday in December with my mom and Lisa, we traveled downtown to find some magic.
Scroll down to see more photos and read more about Christkindlmarket.
“The hot chocolate is smooth and chocolatey but not overly sweet. It’s very satisfying on a cold day!”
Our first stop on this grand day downtown was at Sawada Coffee in the Fulton Market District at 112 North Green Street. (You can read all about our visit to Hiroshi Sawada’s coffee shop in my previous blog post.) After filling up on lovely coffee and doughnuts from Doughnut Vault, we were ready to walk east toward Daley Center Plaza at 50 West Washington Street.
We arrived a bit early at Daley Center Plaza, so I took some photos before we warmed ourselves inside Block Thirty Seven. When we returned outside the barricades of Christkindlmarket, it was an entirely different scene. There were more boots than plaza tiles to support them. We were hungry for potato pancakes, so we lined up near the German Grill vendor booth. This was beginning to shape up like a watering hole in the savannah, protected by barricades, and far too small to handle the onslaught. I would rather gash than be gashed.
The clock struck eleven and we were off! We made a beeline to German Grill where we were second in line. Always a favorite, potato pancakes were first on our list. My mom secured a scarce table while Lisa and I brought over our annual treats.
This isn’t a food blog post; but, somehow, it will become one just for a few paragraphs. (Take a look at the previous two photos.) Even if you weren’t there, you can probably feel the heat and smell the fresh potatoes and cracked black pepper permeating your senses.
It’s your choice to enjoy the potato pancakes plain or with sour cream and applesauce. We always go for the full boat. It’s a different experience every time, switching back and forth between sour cream and applesauce. At the end, it becomes a wonderful mix of sweet and savory. It’s the perfect way to put a smile on your face and a warm feeling in your tummy.
My mom loves the potato pancakes. If, for some reason, Christkindlmarket didn’t offer them, she might revolt and reduce Krampus to a frightened doe. This wasn’t the case this year, and probably isn’t cause for concern any year. It would be like having Fourth of July celebrations without fireworks.
Lisa and I were too busy eating, but my mom was good enough to comment, “The potato pancakes are soft and fluffy. They’re very light. I like them best with sour cream!” I wholeheartedly agreed. Lisa, on the other hand, liked them best with applesauce. More sour cream for us.
We also crossed off our lists: the annual collectible Christkindlmarket “boot” mug and bonus Kinder Club Sno-ma cups. Lisa filled her “boot” mug with hot chocolate while my mom and I topped off our Snow-ma cups with chai. Lisa was enjoying her hot chocolate. She smiled as she admired her mug, “The hot chocolate is smooth and chocolatey but not overly sweet. It’s very satisfying on a cold day!” I was glad that she was having such a good time. I took a sip of my chai and was impressed. I thought the flavor was very smooth with a hint of warming spices. It was perfect.
Over 50 vendors pack in and around Daley Center Plaza every season.
After we took our fill and crossed potato pancakes and drinks off our list, we set out to walk through Christkindlmarket, booth by booth, over 50 in all. It’s different every year but there are some favorite vendors that return every season. It’s good to see some old favorites and new additions. Every year’s Christkindlmarket is a different event, from the vendors to the food to the collectible “boot” mugs to the weather.
This day was mild by December standards, so we were able to take our time and see all the vendors nice and easy. Some of the offerings were just amazing. The level of craftsmanship matched at the price points were truly remarkable. Many cultures were on proud display with their offerings of food, clothing, collectibles, ornaments, and more.
The origin of Christkindlmarket comes from Nuremburg, Germany where the first “Christkindlesmarkt” opened in 1545. Many years later and many miles away here in Chicago, we have put our own local spin while retaining the original spirit of the cherished German tradition. There is a little more international flavor to our Christkindlmarket but also a very robust German origin. This is Chicago where many cultures come together. And everyone came together so peacefully and joyously on this Saturday afternoon.
“The potato pancakes are soft and fluffy. They’re very light. I like them best with sour cream!”
We continued to breeze through a dense but easygoing crowd. Everyone was there simply to have a good time. I think a lot of us were searching for some old Christmas magic. It didn’t matter if you bought something from each vendor or nothing at all. To be surrounded by so much happiness was definitely something real that we could feel. There was a magic in the air. It wasn’t resident in the stuff on sale. It was everywhere in the shared joy of the season.
I know that there is no Santa Claus. Gifts are opened, used up and forgotten. When we look back on what brought us so much joy then when we were kids, we realize that it wasn’t the gifts. It was the thought behind the gifts. It was the people behind the curtain. It was the architects behind the magic. If we believe, we will find magic.
You can find Christkindlmarket at Daley Center Plaza, 50 West Washington Street, Chicago, IL 60602. The website for Christkindlmarket in Chicago is Christkindlmarket
To experience a dynamic presentation of Christkindlmarket, click on the link to my Adobe Spark photoblog at Adobe Spark – Christkindlmarket
To see more photos of Christkindlmarket, follow my Instagram page at Instagram – The Simple Luxuries