Christmas markets are festive traditions that span centuries and were precursors for today’s festivals and laser light shows. The first mentioned Christmas market, also known as Christkindlmarkt, was Striezelmarkt in the German Saxony city, Dresden, in 1434. Christkind is literally translated as Christchild and is generally depicted in angel form with locks of curly blond hair, dressed in white and gold robes lined with fur and wearing a crown. Christkind, the spirit of Christmas, bestows gifts to children while spreading joy and peace.
Originally, farmers gathered in front of churches offering their wares and to shop in celebration during advent. Today, the markets kick off the Christmas holiday season bringing festivities, parades, holiday cheer, and ideal locations to shop for unique quality gifts. This cherished German tradition has spread across the world with nearly every country, state, and city having its version of a Christkindlmarket or Christmas event that celebrates the start of the Advent season. Here is a list of some Christmas markets, light shows, and activities that you may not have heard of, but are worth a trip to experience.
Huntsville, Alabama – Christkindlmarket Huntsville
This week-long family-friendly festival is located in Huntsville’s historic downtown square and features over 50 local and regional craft vendors. The Christkindlmarket Huntsville is recognized as the #1 Christmas market in Alabama bringing German street food and festive holiday drinks to savor while enjoying live entertainment.
“Christmas is a tonic for our souls. It moves us to think of others rather than of ourselves. It directs our thoughts to giving” ~ B.C. Forbes
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – Christkindlmarkt
Recognized not once, but twice by Travel + Leisure as one of the best holiday markets in the United States the Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem, PA is sure to warm the heart of any Grinch. Each year Bethlehem creates a Christmas city with event-sized heated tents in conjunction with ArtsQuest Center SteelStacks artist campus. Enjoy the convenience of the free Christmas City Trolley as it shuttles visitors between parking, the Christmas City Village, Christkindlmarkt, and SteelStacks.
Experience festive events like hot glass parties where you can make a glass ornament, breakfast with St. Nicholas, and ice sculpting demonstrations. New additions to Christmas City include outdoor artisan huts, old-fashioned fire pits, and igloos to explore setting the ambiance for the North Pole’s winter wonderland.
“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.” ―Andy Rooney
Chicago, Illinois – Christkindlmarket Chicago
For over 20-years the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest has hosted the Nuremberg-designed Christkindlmarket Chicago bringing authentic German-imported mulled wine called “Glühwein”. The opening ceremony of the market will feature Chicago’s own Christkind recounting the history and traditions of Christkind.
Visitors to the Christkindlmarket Chicago can also purchase the highly sought after collectible Market Mug which changes each year. Cheers (or Prost!) to enjoying an authentic German mulled wine in a collectible mug while feeling like you are visiting a Christmas village of yesteryear in Germany.
Arlington, Texas – Texas Christkindl Market
Arlington works with both its sister city, Bad Königshofen (read about the relationship), and its Christmas sister city, Rothenburg ob der Tauber to bring the charm of medieval old-world Germany to Texas. Each year Globe Life Field Noth Plaza turns into a magical European village ushering in the spirit of Christmas with live entertainment from area schools, local dance artists, outdoor ice skating (yes, ice skating in Texas!), and German-inspired snacks.
While in Arlington be sure to check out Interlochen Lights. This 40-year holiday tradition is one of North Texas’ largest exhibits of neighborhood organized Christmas light displays. Not to be outdone, Six Flags Over Texas is decked out over-the-top for Christmas with musical light shows, holiday-themed treats like campfire holiday s’mores, and wintery activities such as the custom-created sledding hill.
Caramel, Indiana – Carmel Christkindlmarkt
This is the place where old-world Saxony Christmas traditions meet new world holiday festivities. A perfect blend of the two ages combines to showcase the joy and wonderment of a Christkindlmarkt that will seemingly transport you to a bygone era. Lining the streets are artist booths displaying hand-crafted decorations, carved wooden art, and food huts serving flavorful German-inspired culinary treats are intertwined with giant nutcrackers.
With so many Christmas markets and festivals, you may wonder what is unique about Carmel Christkindlmarkt. They have partnered with Steinbach (the world-famous nutcracker creators) to install a life-sized version of a “Weihnachtspyramide”, also known as the Christmas Pyramid, where they will serve Glühwein – authentic mulled wine created from a variety of German recipes.
Weihnachtspyramides are typically small, multi-tiered wooden decorations that sit on a table or counter. This particular Weihnachtspyramide is 33-feet tall displaying over 3,000 lights, weighing an estimated 10-tons. Making a trip to see this Caramel exclusive should definitely be on your list for a Christmas excursion.
These “pyramids” are really more like multi-tiered merry-go-rounds with tiny figurines carved in the shape of angels, nutcrackers, or woodland animals. On the top of the pyramid is a set of wooden fan blades that rotate from heat-waves that rise from small candles that circle the base of the pyramid. As the fan blades rotate, each level of the pyramid also rotates. Many times the levels will rotate in opposite directions (one level rotates clockwise, the next rotates counterclockwise, then the next level clockwise, so on). It is quite a mesmerizing display.
“At Christma, all roads lead home” ~ Marjorie Holmes
Light Shows and Festivals
Louisville, Kentucky – Waverly Hills Sanatorium Laser Light Show
When most people think of Christmas festivity locations, I am willing to bet those locations are in town squares or quaint neighborhoods, but never at an abandoned historic sanitorium that is being restored to its former gothic brilliance.
Waverly Hills of “The Hills” as it was also known, was built in 1908 to safely house tuberculosis patients. At the time, Tuberculosis was an extremely serious disease that forced patients and caregivers alike into a life of isolation. Waverly Hills became a completely self-contained city with its own zipcode, post office, farms, and even a water treatment facility. Today, all traces of tuberculosis are gone. Since 2001, the building and grounds have undergone extensive renovations in an effort to preserve the memory of its past residents and history of the area.
During specific times, visitors can now pass through the original gate to drive down its winding road to experience a truly magical display of Christmas lights and animated laser light shows (watch a youtube here) that dance in synchronization to holiday music from their cars. To enjoy this unique show be sure to check the website for show dates and times.
Natchitoches, Louisiana – Festival of Lights
Home to one of the oldest small-town Christmas festivals in the United States, Natchitoches Festival of Lights has helped to ring in the yuletide spirit since 1927. Each year thousands of visitors from around the world journey to Natchitoches to enjoy their 6-week long Christmas festival season.
Visitors flock to this small southern town large on community spirit to view the 300,000 multi-colored Christmas lights strung from rooftops creating a glowing fairy-tale wonderland and to gaze in admiration at the 100 twinkling lighted scenes that graze the banks of the Cane River Lake. Holiday-cheer seekers gather on the recently renovated Rue Beauport Riverfront boardwalk every Saturday to enjoy live music, performances, fireworks, shopping, and festive snacks.
Phoenix, Arizona – Las Noches de las Luminarias
The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix celebrates the season of giving by partnering with Season for Sharing, a nonprofit that helps to fund agencies that help at-risk children, families, and the elderly during Las Noches de las Luminarias. The first Las Noches de las Luminarias was held in 1979 with 600 lighted bags gracing the then 40-year old garden. Today an amazing display of over 8,000 flickering luminaria bags line the garden’s trails as visitors enjoy the star-filled night sky, stunning desert life, and listen to music.
Chandler, Arizona – Tumbleweed Tree
Located in the southern portion of the Phoenix metroplex is the city of Chandler, home to the one-and-only, Tumbleweed Tree. Originating in 1957 when residents collected tumbleweeds from around the town and stacked them to create a Christmas tree-like shape. The tradition continues today with over 1,000 tumbleweeds collected by residents and attached to a 25-foot tall wireframe. Read more about how the tree is decorated here.
“Christmas is a bridge spanning the river of time. Christmas of today should be about creating happy times for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday” ~ Gladys Taber
No matter how you celebrate the yuletide season or where you go to experience the magic of Christmas, make it a time to remember, a time to give, a time to be grateful.
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