Tradition re-kindled: New Christkindlmarkt puts local spin on German tradition

In German culture, the annnual Christkindlmarkt is a focal point of joy, celebration and everything that makes a local community special.

Towns and cities come together for music, food and revelry, supporting their neighbors and the local business community.

Such an idea sounded like a wonderful thing to bring to central Indiana.

“In Germany, and the angle we’re taking with our Christkindlmarkt, is it’s very local,” said Craig Mince, president of the Athenaeum Foundation. “These Christkindlmarkt were in town squares, and you had local and regional vendors who would sell their wares. We’re doing the same with ours.”

Johnson County and southside residents can experience the magic of the Christkindlmarkt close to home this holiday season. The Athenaeum Foundation will host its inaugural event starting on Nov. 25, with local artisans and merchants set up in huts selling holiday-specific items, local memorabilia, gifts and more.

The event, which will be hosted in the historic Rathskeller biergarten in downtown Indianapolis, will hopefully give visitors a unique kind of experience among the many offerings planned in the city this holiday season.

“To be able to offer this to downtown dwellers, and even folks on the southside, it gives them a destination to visit not just to go to the Christkindlmarkt, but when you come downtown during the holidays, there is so much going on,” Mince said. “It’s really dynamic in downtown Indianapolis to be able to do all of these holiday-themed things on one trip.”

The Athenaeum Foundation is a nonprofit charged with care and preservation of Athenaeum. Originally called Das Deutsche Haus, the building is a National Historic Landmark recognized in 2016 by the U.S. Department of the Interior for its role in educational, architectural, and German-American history of the city, state and nation.

Even today, the structure serves as a community center for many cultural, business and nonprofit groups, including Coat Check Coffee, the YMCA, Indiana Performing Arts Centre and the well-known Rathskeller Restaurant.

“In addition to maintaining the building and keeping the National Historic Landmark that is the Athenaeum up and running, we really focus on educating Indianapolis and the greater community about how important German immigrants were when they came to the city,” Mince said.

With its mission of preserving German-American culture, the idea of a Christkindlmarkt was one that the foundation had been eyeing for years, Mince said.

“I’d wanted to do it since I started at the foundation, and then COVID set in and everyone took pause and re-evaluated everything. I dug in and focused on getting this Christkindlmarkt off the ground,” Mince said. “This has been quite a few years in the making.”

This will not be the first Christkindlmarkt in central Indiana. Carmel Christkindlmarkt was founded in 2017, and offers visitors the opportunity to browse a variety of products sourced from Germany and other German-speaking European countries.

Traditional German foods, drinks and gifts are sold from small wooden huts, all set up around an ice rink at the center of the market.

Athenaeum Foundation organizers has previously had a hut at the Carmel Christkindlmarkt, and wanted to put their own spin on the cultural event — one with an Indiana focus.

Organizers have invited 12 areas businesses to set up shop in wooden huts designed by Solid State, a local design firm.

“The 12 vendors that will be in our huts are all local vendors. Everything is pretty much sourced locally — though obviously, there are few things that are not,” Mince said. “Then we’ve tasked vendors from around the city with recreating authentic German Christkindlmarkt items.”

Visitors can buy gift wrap, candles, cards and ornaments from Silver in the City, or Christkindlmarkt boot mugs, steins and pottery from Gravesco Pottery.

“Our hut will have an array of locally made ornaments, cards, and gifts that represent the sights, sounds, and flavors of the holidays in Indy,” said Kristin Kohn, owner of Silver in the City.

Wax Traditions will sell hand-painted German-style ornaments, King Lou Pets has all of the goods for your dogs, cats and other pets, while HeidiJHale Designs + Details has hand-made jewelry.

“I lived in Germany for a portion of my childhood and fondly remember the holiday markets and German traditions surrounding Christmas,” said Heidi Hale, owner of HeidiJHale Designs + Details. “Being able to be part of a Christkindlmarkt, that celebrates local Hoosier artists while highlighting German heritage, is extra special for me.”

The Athenaeum Foundation has planned a hut to sell exclusive Christkindlmarkt items, while J&K Sweet Shop plans to offer German roasted nuts. React Tree & Greenery Hut, which will be located at the Christkindlmarkt entrance off Cleveland and Michigan streets, will sell freshly cut Christmas trees and greenery.

Other vendors have arranged to open up on varying weekends. LHenry Art, selling charcuterie boards, candles and keychains, will be featured the first weekend. SoulCraft’s oils, lotions and herbal tea will rotate in on the second weekend, while Penn & Beech Candle Co. takes the third weekend.

The Rathskeller restaurant has planned a menu of traditional Christkindlmarkt food items, pretzels and spicy mustard. No German winter celebration would be complete without beer, wine and gluhwein — spiced wine served hot or warm.

Coat Check Coffee will be available with coffee, hot chocolate and sweets, and Ash & Elm Cider Co. has locally crafted mulled cider and products available for carryout.

The Athenaeum Christkindlmarkt will be open Thursday through Sunday, conclusing on Dec. 18. Live entertainment will be ongoing on the Biergarten stage, additional food options are planned by the Rathskeller and Sun King Brewery has created an exclusive beer brewed only for the Christkindlmarkt.

In addition to regular operation hours, the market has a pair of unique events planned during its run.

Krampusnacht — or “Krampus Night” — is planned for Dec. 3, when the mythical beast Krampus arrives to punish naughty children. On the flip side, Dec. 4 will be Sankt Nikolaus Fest to reward the good.

All of it together will hopefully emphasize the importance of German culture to the local community, Mince said.

“All of the events that we do are meant to draw the dotted line between a lot of the traditions that families have in central Indiana to their German ancestry,” he said.