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Holiday Traditions

written by Pat Tasker, CRS
Milwaukee, WI      ptasker@shorewest.com   
Dec 1, 2020

Family & Community

Christkindlmarkt-Chicago

Family traditions – the memories we make! Some family traditions revolve around months/seasons of the year, such as planting vibrant geraniums on the porch in late spring for summer blooms, carving pumpkins for Halloween, or setting intentions at the New Year. Some traditions are rooted in habit or need, and others are rooted in emotions and memories. Some of those family traditions are just traditions—you always do them, because you always did them, or because your mom always made that certain Christmas cookie, or your grandparents always hosted a fancy New Year's dinner. Growing up, we always enjoyed certain customs for certain holidays. 

Our family has a lot of German traditions. This is partly because my husband and I are both German (He was actually a US Army “brat” born in Germany, with relatives and friends we still visit) and partly because we live in Milwaukee and this city has a very strong German heritage, from beer to brats and everything Germanic in between! With that strong German line in our family, our kids attended Milwaukee German Immersion School, where they learned and spoke in German every day, from the first day of Kindergarten on. There, the boys celebrated German holidays such as St Nicholas Day, and the annual Lantern Parade.

Other traditions start because of something you did one time, and having really loved it the first time, you decide to do it year after year. Some of these “original” traditions in a family are done because young parents want to start something new for their kids to remember and possibly continue. I can clearly remember the start of one of our family’s annual traditions: visiting the magical Christkindlmarkts! Being a very big Christmas fan myself, it was one of my early goals in real estate to plan and save for a family trip to Germany over Christmas one year... It was that trip in December 1991 that we fell in love with the Christkindlmarkts of Europe and sought ways to continue that tradition yearly with our boys. They were seven and eleven at the time, and it was a MAGICAL HOLIDAY

One of the very first nights we were there, we took the train to downtown Stuttgart to visit the Christkindlmarkt. I had no preconceived ideas about the market, and now I look back and wonder if I even knew Christkindlmarkts existed! Almost every city has some sort of market, set in the center square of the town. The bigger the city, the bigger the Christkindlmarkt. Well, as I said then, it was a delight for all your senses! 

  • The wafting scents of anise, gingerbread, mulled wine (glühwein), sizzling sausages and potato pancakes. So much food to satisfy even the hungriest of visitors! Lots of boxed cookies, candies, stollens and breads tantalize the senses, just waiting to be taken home!    
  • The twinkling sights of the thousands of white lights guide us to glittering shiny ornaments and blown glass balls, all organized in each of the wooden stalls protected by red and white tarped roofs, some sporting ten-foot revolving Christmas pyramids, and some decorated with simple traditional greens and ribbons. What a feast for the eyes!
  • The festive sounds of the traditional carols floating from the stalls, mixed with the piping of an organ grinder, dressed like Father Christmas with a little monkey on a leash. The babble of families fills the air, discussing their potential purchases to eat or which gifts to take home for under the tree.  
  • The incredible taste of all the amazing food for sale, ranging from decadent seasonal treats to comfort food guaranteed to fill your tummy, complete with the savory Glühwein and hot chocolate served in collector mugs designed each year for each market.
  • The feel of the crisp winter night air, the soft knitted mittens and scarves for sale and my favorite— the feel of a small child's mitted hand in mine, as we try to stay together to enjoy and share the moments, make treasured purchases and eat treats, all while navigating the thick festive crowds.

Since that very first visit to an authentic Christkindlmarkt, our family has sought out local ones in the Midwest. At first there were none, and then one or two popped up. In 1996, The German American Chamber of Commerce started the very popular Christkindlmarkt in Chicago, just two hours from home! We were so thrilled and visited yearly. It has grown every year and has settled at Daley Plaza near the original “Marshall Fields.” The last several years it has grown to several locations including opening in Milwaukee in 2018.

The Chicago market is so very popular (attracting more than 1 million visitors a year!), it almost needs a new location to fit all the visitors that crowd the market daily from late November to Christmas Eve. This market is filled with many vendors that come from Europe for the run of the market, making it the most authentic one we have visited in America. The one in Bethlehem, PA is quite large, and the year we visited, it was under a huge tent in the shadow of the historic skeleton of the Bethlehem Steel plant. There are many small local ones set up for a weekend or two all around the country. Each one tries its best to recreate the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the real deal, and most do a pretty good job. You can get your “fix” of holiday treats or real German food, all while shopping for hand crafted ornaments and Christmas décor and gifts.

When I asked our boys, now in their mid-late 30’s what they remember and love about the markets, their answers centered around the food and the experience. Tim said he remembers “All the chocolate covered fresh fruit (kabob style) and all the candy!” Erik said he loves “the Christmas spirit of the market” and “The German food, of course…the hot sausages and potato pancakes on a cold day.”

(It's funny to note that when Erik was applying for a special German internship program, it was the German American Chamber of Commerce that sponsored the program. He mentioned in his application essay that we always attended the Chicago Christkindlmarkt. I think that gave him a few brownie points toward landing his job and acceptance into the internship program in Germany that summer. And that experience as an intern at the US Consulate’s office in Dusseldorf gave him a book full of memories and experiences in culture, travel and business!)

With markets from Nurenberg to Milwaukee closed due to the virus, it is sad to see the empty city squares this year. BUT personally, as I write this, I am smiling in anticipation! One year from today, I will relive many family memories as we go on a river cruise through Germany, visiting all the Christkindlmarkts along the way. We cannot wait to go back and revisit such a memorable family event first shared in 1991…  a family event that started a strong and deeply loved tradition of the visits to the Christkindlmarkt!


Pat Tasker, CRS is a top producing Realtor in the Greater Milwaukee Wi area.  Born and raised in Milwaukee and now living in the suburbs she knows the area well and it’s a key to helping buyers and sellers move in and out of the area. You can connect with Pat Tasker on most social channels, including Facebook where Pat shares all things Milwaukee and beyond through posts and video. 

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