Christkindl Market tree lighting, Chicago, 2013.

Call me crazy, but recently being all bundled up and heading into Chicago from Oak Park to stand in a cold street with a huge crowd of shivering, but warm-hearted strangers who are singing carols and collectively anticipating the thrill of watching a Chicago mayor  throw a switch to light a single, 57-foot Christmas tree, is the holiday cheer that annually kicks off my season.

Even more telling here is how afterwards, regardless the thrall, I am drawn to patiently navigating a rush of seasonal revelers at the opening of Christkindlmarket.  All of our aims, well at least mine, is to purchase a first sipping of Gluehwein, which they pour with a smile and a traditional ting-a-ling into a commemorative mug.

To date, of these mugs, I have 15, not counting the doubles or quadruples we have in storage until well…the day they are pushed forward to my children’s children, or unceremoniously given away.

So, all this is a sentimental journey I will repeat until I can no longer hop the Blue Line train and do it.

And, judging from what happened recently in the confines of Daley Plaza, I am not alone in this.

Even without my own kids at my side, the internal heat of holiday merriment and memories still wash over me as I spy other parents, as I did year in and year out, braving the chill with their children in tow, with the children loving the experience…or not.

As any parent knows, having a kid who does or doesn’t want any part of it, IS part of it, after all.

Over the years I have collected them, the mugs have morphed in and out of ordinary colors and shapes, and in recent years became a festive-looking boot.  

Still, the capacity of the cup has always been 8 oz., even though it may appear to hold less.

The Market, it seems, has been in place for 18 years.  Of those we have gone to 15 consecutive stagings, regularly purchasing the “next” mug, even though we could have brought back the same mug time and again for a refill.

The organizers say that what is in place now was inspired by the Christkindlmarket in Nuremberg, Germany, which began in 1545, and nowadays is Chicago’s largest open-air Christmas festival, although it was first held at Pioneer Court in 1996.  Later, by special invitation of Mayor Richard M. Daley, Christkindlmarket Chicago moved to Daley Plaza in 1997.  Our first taste of it was in 1999.

The tree lighting in Chicago, though, has been in place 100 years.  Initially it began as a memorialization of Captain Herman Scheunemann, who manned the “Rouse Simmons,” or perhaps better known as the Christmas Tree Ship.  Both man and ship  were lost in a storm on Lake Michigan in 1912.  The initial holiday tree lighting ceremony in Chicago was staged in Grant Park the next year, and later relocated to where it traditionally takes place now.

Living in transit-rich Oak Park, it is so easy to take advantage of all that is Chicago, and lots of Oak Parkers do. 

But I won’t be shopping in retail establishments there — or anywhere other than a grocery store here — on Thanksgiving Day this year, although we do plan to take some other youngsters to the annual McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Parade way earlier in the day.  

I’ll raise a mug to that.

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....