CHICAGO — Germany won't be the only country represented at this year's Christkindlmarket holiday festival.
The annual event celebrates the Christmas traditions of Deutschland, but this year it will also feature representatives from Indian, Swedish and Native American cultures, event vice president Maren Biester said.
The gates were officially opened at Daley Plaza on Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 2 p.m. in advance of the tree-lighting ceremony that evening, Biester said.
Minutes after opening, the plaza was already flooded with visitors, many of them families who make trips to Christkindlmarket a holiday tradition.
"We've got a lot of these mugs in our cupboard," said Tom Van Cleave, 63, of Batavia, referring to the commemorative boot mugs sold with servings of German Glühwein each year. Van Cleave's mother-in-law, Barbara Silva, is originally from Munich, and makes the trip each year to reconnect with her homeland.
"This is a family tradition," said Liz Van Cleave, Tom's wife. "When she [Silva] comes for Thanksgiving, we do the Christmas market. Without fail."
Christkindlmarket also debuted new children's programming this year. Little ones were issued passport-themed activity books and the children were able collect stamps redeemable for prizes by visiting various booths around the market.
A scavenger hunt led kids to uncover facts about German culture, which Biester said was particularly exciting for the event's German organizers.
The Gaughan family of McKinney, Texas, brought their three children, Liam, 13, Delaney, 12 and Keelin, 10, to Christkindlmarket for the first time on opening day while in town visiting the kids' German grandmother in suburban Streamwood.
Shortly after the gates opened, Liam Gaughan already had a game plan:
"Bratwurst, schnitzel, crepes, chocolate-covered strawberries on a stick, hot chocolate," he said.
Christkindlmarket will be open daily through Monday, Dec. 24 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. It will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays during that time.