Spätzle, Shopping, Service and St. Nikolaus
Christkindlmarkt SLC Brings European Charm to This Is The Place
It’s Thanksgiving weekend and time to pull the holiday decorations out of storage and start the yearly unboxing and reminiscing. If you’re lucky, you’ve collected a few pieces of one of those ceramic Christmas villages — old Victorian homes and turn-of-the-century cottages with tiny streetlamps, twinkling lights, a horse or two, and a dusting of snow on the village Christmas tree and rooftops — along with dreams of being transported to that charming, tiny village.
Good news: There’s a full-size re-creation of it on Salt Lake City’s East Bench at This Is The Place Heritage Park, and you can visit it during the annual German Christkindlmarkt SLC.
Setting the Scene
This Is The Place Heritage Park has a village of Victorian stone houses, red brick storefronts and 1900s cottages organized around a wide, tree-lined dirt road, with horses in a nearby barn. During the annual German Christkindlmarkt SLC Christmas lights hang in a canopy above the center square lined by small wood cottages occupied by local artisans, food vendors and merchants selling everything from handmade wooden toys to exotic jam to modern screen-printed totes.
A stage hosts entertainment of all varieties including professional yodelers, alphorn players and polka dancers. The aroma of homemade stroopwafels, schnitzel, glazed nuts and other European eats wafts through the air.
More Than Just Food and Gifts
Viewing Christkindlmarkt as nothing more than a place to shop and snack would be inaccurate and do a major disservice to its purpose.
Founder Allyson Chard spent two years living in Germany where she was inspired by its famous Christmas markets. While researching Christkindlmarkts, she came across the story of St. Martin and the Lantern Parade and knew it needed to be the foundation of Christkindlmarkt SLC.
St. Martin, as the legend goes, was a soldier known for cutting his coat in half to give to a beggar on a snowy night because he did not have anything else to offer. The Salt Lake Christkindlmarkt features a Lantern Parade to honor St. Martin, who rides in on his horse. He is followed by area children and youth who participated in service projects in the weeks and months preceding the parade. They hold glowing lanterns and sing Christmas carols. Floats and a Christkind angel are part of the parade. Its message strikes at the heart of Christmas, and the feeling of warmth is almost enough to thaw your toes on a cold December night.
A Labor of Love
The 20-member Christkindlmarkt committee all serve on a purely volunteer basis. Committee member Antje Evans says, “I moved from Germany 11 years ago. I found the Christkindlmarkt and found home. We all just enjoy it and want to make it a wonderful experience for the people and our vendors.” The market is a nonprofit organization and the year-long planning is truly a labor of love for those involved. There is no entrance fee, unlike many Christmas markets.
This winter’s event marks the ninth year for the service-oriented German Christmas market that swaps the Bavarian Alps for a Wasatch Mountain backdrop and cobblestone European streets for a turn-of-the-century pioneer village.
Tips for Attending Christkindlmarkt SLC
When to Go:
- Christkindlmarkt is open Wednesday through Saturday, Dec. 4-7, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. It’s especially popular on the weekend so try Wednesday, Thursday or Friday afternoons for smaller crowds and shorter food lines.
- There is a live nativity Wednesday night and the magical St. Martin Lantern Parade on Thursday night. Children’s parades are also scheduled for Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
- Day and night have slightly different atmospheres. “Day is lively and festive,” Chard says. “At nighttime, the lights turn on and the market feels magical.” Evans says, “I love the unique backdrop of This Is The Place lit up, overlooking the downtown city lights below.”
Attending with Children
- Prepare to be bombarded with requests for a pony ride and visit to a petting zoo of animals used in the live nativity. Don’t worry, tickets are cheap.
- St. Nikolaus is onsite, taking requests and passing out a treat.
- For $5 you can attend the unique, daily “Gnome Fest” with stories, games and crafts highlighting the magical characters.
- Attend one of the parades or even march in one. Have your child participate in a service project prior to the event to be eligible. Email email@example.com if you’d like your child to march in the parade.
- Print the Kinder Treasure Map off the website and look for clues from the Gnomes dispersed through the market.
- The food! Do yourself a favor and go to Christkindlmarkt hungry. Feast on spätzle, schnitzel, brats, Belgian waffles, stroopwafels, crepes, pretzels, raclette and all sorts of European and non-European food options. Eat homemade Springerle cookies made by a family who flies to Salt Lake from Germany each year to sell their sweets.
- Check the entertainment schedule on the website before your visit if you like, but there’s bound to be something fun and festive happening no matter when you go.
- The antithesis of Black Friday big-box commercialized Christmas shopping is the wooden booths at Christkindlmarkt, manned by jolly sellers. Make sure your Christmas budget allows you to buy something completely unique, like a German Schwibbogen (a handmade Christmas scene).