Germany is famous for Christmas markets, a tradition that dates to the 1600s in Nuremberg. Held in town squares beginning the Friday after the first Advent Sunday, the markets usually include timber structures decorated with holly bows and fragrant evergreen. With live musical performances and glühwein, a German Christmas market is a holiday treat to experience at least once in your life.
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Christmas Markets in the U.S.
I’ve never experienced a Christmas market in Germany. But I have been to Elkhart Lake Wisconsin in December, home to one of the most authentic German Christmas markets in the U.S.
Located on the grounds of the beautiful Osthoff Resort under a big tent the size of a football field, this Christmas market has just about everything they have in Germany.
You’ll find bratwursts and other German sausages, beer and that lovely warm spiced wine known as glühwein.
Gerhard Lippman’s booth is one of the busiest of the 70 under the big tent. He is a wood worker who makes magnificent Nativity sets, Nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks and other impressive items from wood found in the forest near his home.
When I met him, he had been coming to Elkhart Lake for more than 15 years. Many returning shoppers simply stop in and say hello or purchase an addition to their collection of his work. Although he speaks fluent English, Lippman can be heard mumbling in German as he struggles to keep up with the crowd and the many sales that make his journey to Wisconsin such a profitable one each year.
Christmas Gifts from Around the World
Gerhard is joined by members of a knitters’ cooperative from Estonia, lace and linen workers from Belgium, and a glass ornament artist from the Czech Republic, among others. Glass Christmas ornaments were first made more than 150 years ago in Lauscha, Germany just a stone’s throw from the Czech Republic.
Christmas markets have become a thing all across Europe.
Of the 70 or so booths at the Elkhart Lake market, about half of them come from Europe. The remaining booths are filled by carefully vetted artisans in and around Wisconsin known for their skill in hand-crafted treasures.
A visit to the Christmas market is a day-long affair, easily. A food court offers up sauerkraut and potato pancake dinners, roasted chestnuts, gingerbread and German candies, along with German cheeses and sausages that also make good holiday gifts. And lots of German beers.
I bought several package of German candies for gift giving, but they never made it home or under my tree. They were so yummy.
What Else to do in Elkhart Lake Wisconsin
The Osthoff Resort is popular all year long, but during the Christmas market you can have breakfast with Santa, take cookie decorating classes and sleigh rides around Elkhart Lake while singing Christmas carols.
Or you might up the expectations for your own holiday dinners by signing up for a class at L’Ecole de la Maison, a cooking school located right inside the Osthoff. During the holidays, the cooking class emphasizes cookies and other festive desserts, such as Yule logs and gingerbread buildings.
So maybe next year, I’ll be able to report on an authentic German Christmas market in Germany. For now, I have no trouble recommending a holiday weekend road trip to Elkhart Lake Wisconsin.
Tip: But if you’d like to visit with woodworkers in Germany, here’s a destination just for you.