O Tannenbaum: Christkindlmarkts bring German holiday traditions to Indiana

The smell of roasted cinnamon almonds, fresh evergreen boughs and grilling meats hit first.

Even before stepping foot inside the elaborate Carmel Christkindmarkt, with it’s Alpine inspired huts, centerpiece skating rink, constant Christmas carols and 33-foot-tall Glühwein Pyramid, the scent of the holidays are impossible to miss.

The atmosphere is already overwhelmingly jolly.

“It’s neat when I meet kids who are 6 or 7, they’ve never had a Christmas without Christkindlmarkt,” said Maria Murphy, CEO of the Carmel-based attraction. “This is part of their tradition. We’ve created something that’s part of their lives.”

The German heritage of the holidays have come to central Indiana. Both at the Carmel Christkindlmarkt and Athenaeum Foundation’s Christkindlmarkt in downtown Indianapolis, visitors can enjoy authentic German food, sip on beers or warm themselves with mulled wine and shop for the perfect gift, whether imported from Europe or made by Indiana creators.

Carmel’s event recreates a charming Christmas village, where local performers will fill the air with festive sounds and skilled artisans demonstrate their talents in real time.

“It’s unbelievable, an honor, to be in charge of something that brings so many people joy. It is now a part of the community’s tradition,” Murphy said.

At the Athenaeum, organizers have expanded upon its inaugural event in 2022 by adding special seasonal celebrations Hanukkah on Saturday, Dec. 9, Las Posadas on Saturday, Dec. 16 and Kwanzaa on Sunday, Dec. 17

“A Christkindlmarkt is a place for the local community to gather and celebrate the season with traditional German food and holiday shopping,” said Craig Mince, the Athenaeum Foundation president. “This year, we’ve decided to put an inclusive spin on Christkindlmarkt by adding days to celebrate other seasonal holidays.”

In German culture, the annual 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.

Organizers in Carmel wanted to bring that feeling to central Indiana when it opened its Christkindlmarkt in 2017.

“Mayor Jim Brainard went to Germany in the winter of 2016, and while he was there, experienced the Christkindlmarkt in Germany. He saw how it brought the community together, and the economic impact the having a market like that could have on Carmel,” Murphy said.

Since that time, the event has attracted more than 1 million people to Carmel. In 2019, 2021 and 2022, the Christkindlmarkt was named best holiday market in the USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice travel award contest.

Within the market, visitors can try German food, beer, wine and hot cocoa. While people can find their fill of pretzels, sausages and schnitzel, organizers have also lined up more eclectic tastes one would find in Germany.

At Räucherschinken Haus, people can dine on “Prague ham” — pit smoked ham cooked over an open wood fire. Baumstriezel serves up chimney cakes, or cylindrical baked treats covered with various sweet or savory toppings.

One stand is selling döner kebabs, a marriage of German and Turkish food traditions.

“This döner has the German bread with the vegetables paired with the Turkish meat style of cooking. It’s this really neat mix of the two cultures,” Murphy said. “It is the most popular street food in Germany.”

Ice skating is offered at the heart of Carmel’s Carter Green. Kids can find free crafts to keep them busy at the Kinderecke, or “Kids Corner,” while seeing artistry at work at the Werkstatt.

But what makes the Carmel Christkindlmarkt so unique is the diverse and authentic lineup of vendors organizers have attracted to central Indiana.

At Lichtermeer, people can find authentic paper star lanterns, Moravian stars and candles. Klassische Holzkunst features German nutcrackers, and traditional folk art from Seiffen and the Black Forest.

Baumschmuck aus Lauscha specializes in hand-made glass ornaments.

“We have a number of new products in the market this year,” Murphy said.

When the Athenaeum Foundation was planning their own Christkindlmarkt, they decided to try their own spin on the German tradition.

The nonprofit is charged with care and preservation of Athenaeum, an Indianapolis structure originally called Das Deutsche Haus. The building was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 2016 for its role in educational, architectural, and German-American history of the city, state and nation.

With its mission of preserving German-American culture, the idea of a Christkindlmarkt was one that the foundation had been discussing for years. The idea came to fruition in 2022.

Festivities this year include festive decorations, food such as warm raclettes — melted cheese scraped onto bread — and a spiced warm wine known as glühwein, as well as other traditional Alpine food and beverages. This year, the Christkindlmarkt will have an expanded tree lot managed by Digs Garden Center. The Christkindlmarkt will also include live entertainment on the Biergarten stage.

In addition, the market will feature 12 vendor huts, which will be occupied by local artisans and merchants. Each hut vendor will sell holiday-specific items, local memorabilia, gifts and more.

“We are excited to welcome returning vendors as well as new faces to our second annual Christkindlmarkt,” Mince said. “Our confirmed vendor list includes local and regional artists who will provide holiday gifts at affordable pricing options for everyone to enjoy.”


Athenaeum Foundation Christkindlmarkt

What: A holiday-themed event featuring 12 vendor huts, which will be occupied by local artisans and merchants. Each hut vendor will sell holiday-specific items, local memorabilia, gifts and more.

Where: The Rathskeller biergarten, 401 E. Michigan St., Indianapolis

When: Fridays through Sundays Nov. 24 to Dec. 17. Hours for opening weekend are are noon-8 p.m. Nov. 24 and 25, and noon-5 p.m. Nov. 26. Hours from Dec. 1 to 17 are 4-8 p.m. Fridays, noon-8 p.m. Saturdays and noon-5 p.m. Sundays.

Special events: Dec. 2, Krampusnacht; Dec. 3, Sankt Nikolaus Fest; Dec. 9, Hanukkah; Dec. 16, Las Posadas, and Dec. 17, Kwanzaa.

Admission: Free

Information: athenaeumindy.org/events/newchristkindlmarkt


Carmel Christkindlmarkt

What: A traditional German holiday marketplace featuring German food and beverage offerings, unique gifts from authentic European vendors, and performing arts by artists from around the world.

Where: 10 Carter Green, Carmel

When: Wednesdays through Sundays Nov. 18 to Dec. 24. Hours are 4-9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, noon-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and noon-8 p.m. Sundays.

Special events: Unique performances and special activities are featured throughout the run of the Christkindlmarkt. Check the website for full details.

Admission: Free

Information: carmelchristkindlmarkt.com