Christmas time in the city triggers images of fairy lights in the trees, carollers in matching wool jackets, and hot cider. But for the city of Chicago, in the beating heart of America’s midwest, holiday traditions take on an international twist. Within one of Chicago’s train stations, the Ogilvie Transportation Center, a French market bustles with people. Every day and every season, vendors offer crêpes, cheese, baguettes, macarons, deli meats, soft pretzels, pastries, and other French-themed indulgences. For the Christmas season, the market celebrates with the Marché de Noël, a tradition that dates back to France over 400 years ago. In an effort to avoid the crush of holiday shoppers along State Street, Chicago’s busiest stretch, people can escape to the French Market and peruse the new Christmas vendors for handmade toys, trinkets, jewellery, soap, and other gifts.
Since Chicago boasts a melting pot of residents, it’s only fitting for the Museum of Science and Industry to host an exhibit for Christmas trees that represent different cultures. Volunteers from Chicago’s ethnic communities contribute to the annual ‘Christmas Around the World’ by decorating the trees to reflect their heritage and its customs. Additionally, the exhibit hosts performances that are traditional in countries as far-ranging as Puerto Rico, Sweden, and South Korea.
Lastly, Europe’s tradition of cinnamon-scented Christmas Markets have travelled across the pond, to the heart of the Midwest. Every season, Chicago hosts its very own Christkindlmarket. Shoppers swarm the array of vendors for the food, beverages, and handicraft treasures that are allegedly commonplace in markets across German-speaking countries. A bakery vendor showcases stollen: a bready cake studded with dried fruit and dusted with powdered sugar. Another vendor evokes a Bavarian ambience with traditional yuletide designs hand-painted onto pewter collectibles.
It’s a festive atmosphere that compensates for the Windy City’s sub-zero temperature. The aroma of baked apples, roasted almonds, and cider sweetens the chilly air as people admire displays of handcrafted cuckoo clocks and glass ornaments, glowing beneath twinkly lights. While carols and the public’s chatter fill the air, visitors can experience a quiet peace when pausing to take in the life-size nativity set at the far edge of the market. The Christkind also makes an appearance. Decked in gold robes with a crown upon curly locks of hair, the mythological character greets visitors in the same mysterious charm used for slipping presents to children or covertly decorating the Christmas tree. But there is also the chance to meet Father Christmas in a cottage beside the towering Christmas tree which rises from the centre of the market. Whether or not Chicago’s various Christmas events truly capture the essence of cultures from far away, visitors still enjoy the international experience. Christmas time in America’s midwest capital can mean a taste of Glühwein or hot spiced wine, a splurge on brie cheese, and a tour of ethnically-diverse Christmas Trees.