The aroma of mulled wine, gingersnaps, and roasting chestnuts draws shoppers to Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremburg, Germany. But you don't have to hop the pond to savor that kind of Christmas market-you'll find similar treats in Chicago and across the U.S.
Outdoor markets have become an annual tradition stateside, with handmade goods that make a refreshing alternative to the holiday big-box shopping craze. "A Christmas market is by nature more personal and social-a unique experience indeed," notes Karlfried Bergner, minister of communications and culture at the German Embassy in Washington, D.C.
At New York's Union Square Holiday Market, a dedicated "Little Brooklyn" section highlights the borough's finest, including DIY beer-making kits from Brooklyn Brew Shop, bow ties from Dap Kitsch, and Natural OliveWood's bread bowls and cutting boards.
Artisanal woodwork, glittering ornaments, vibrant knitted winter wear, jewelry, toys, and spicy homemade jams are staples of other markets. At the Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem, PA, you can even blow and design your own intricate glass ornament for your Christmas tree.
European markets date back to the Middle Ages around the observance of Lent. Children were presented with Holy Christkind, an angel clad in white who came bearing gifts as the patron of Christmas markets-and unlikely predecessor to modern-day Kris Kringle.
While Santa does make appearances at some of our favorite American Christmas markets, you'll find a whole lot more to keep you jolly this shopping season.
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Union Square Holiday Market, New York City
Roughly 1 million shoppers-New Yorkers and visitors alike-browse annually at this market, a Union Square staple since 1994. More than 150 vendors sell artisanal foods, holiday ornaments, handmade jewelry, and children's toys under iconic red and white tents. urbanspacenyc.com
Kevin Koski/ Downtown DC BID
Downtown Holiday Market, Washington, D.C.
From ice cream made with liquid nitrogen to piping-hot donuts, this annual market goes beyond European food traditions, taking the kind of worldly approach you'd expect in D.C. Located on F Street in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, this festive market counts more than 150 artists and crafters selling handmade goods like pottery, paintings, photo prints, and textiles. downtownholidaymarket.com
What to Try: Spice up your Christmas outing with a savory Peruvian-style empanada from Alexa's, and finish it off with hot cinnamon-dusted, cream-filled churros.
Courtesy of Downtown Bethlehem Association
Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem, PA
Christened "Bethlehem" on Christmas Eve 1741, this tradition-steeped town holds one of the most authentic Christmas markets, featuring artisans and glassblowers making glass ornaments on site. Beyond sweet-smelling candied almonds, you'll also find home-style kettle corn, stuffed pretzels, dipped fruits like caramel apples, and a slew of barbecue options. In addition to sitting on Santa's knee for the quintessential photo op, kids can also share breakfast with St. Nick. artsquest.org/christkindlmarkt
What to Try: Blowing your own intricately decorated glass ornaments to hang on your Christmas tree.