The Christkindlmarkt: Charlotte's Christmas Village
by Brianna Melanson • images courtesy Carol Hambridge, Nicole Jenkins
The tradition of a Christkindlmarkt, or open winter market, began in 1310 Munich, Germany. Decorated wooden booths would take over the village’s town square to celebrate the Christmas season by selling homemade crafts and glühwein. Glühwein is the mulled red wine of Germany, literally meaning “glow wine,” as the hot irons would be glowing as they mulled. It’s not a Christmas drink without spices such as cinnamon, clove, and star anise. Sometimes vanilla and citrus are also included in the recipe. The community would stroll around the market with their warm glühwein in a commemorative mug while they shopped and watched talented performers. This marvelous tradition is still strong today and has since moved to the United States and now our beloved city.
Thanksgiving day begins the second year of the Charlotte Christmas Village, or Christkindlmarkt. Romare Bearden Park will once again transform into a German Christmas market featuring glühwein, German food favorites, gifts, a Christmas tree lot, and entertainers. Opening day will kick off with Charlotte Ballet’s Nutcracker dancers.
County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour says, “Last year’s Christmas Village was a wonderful event, and this year is shaping up to be even bigger and better with more vendors, a new village design, and the return of exciting community partners. My family and I can’t wait to go!”
Paul Claus and Dena Bruton-Claus (Claus in a German pronunciation) have been preparing for this magical event all year, and they are rightly proud of it. That’s right, Mr. and Mrs. Claus created Charlotte’s first ever Christmas Village.
Paul and Dena are event planners from Texas and have been in Charlotte for 10 years. They were previously volunteers at the largest free art and music festival in the southwest, and Dena was a member of the festival’s board for 11 years. Some of their fondest memories come from outdoor festivals, which were a big part of their kids’ childhood.
When their daughter went off to school in Philadelphia a few years ago, the Claus’ witnessed the Philadelphia Christmas Market being set up, which is one of the largest in the United States next to Chicago and Baltimore. They were immediately inspired by their thorough and extravagant village and thought that’s exactly what Charlotte needed. With Charlotte’s diversity and rich German heritage, a Charlotte Christkindlmarkt seemed like a natural fit, so they began working to make it official. They succeeded.
The vibrant Christmas Villages are found all over Germany in December. As some of you may recall, some of last year’s customers were disappointed that there were no traditional wooden huts as advertised. Well, Dena and Paul were already in the process of building those huts when they found out that due to the city and county fire regulations, they would not be able to use the huts and had to resort to white tents. Remember that it was their first year. Despite the controversy, the Village brought in more than 7,500 visitors last year, and they expect this year’s numbers to jump to 120,000. The majority of their vendors are returning from last year because they enjoyed it so much. This year’s patrons will see many great changes based on what the Claus’s learned from last year, and they even became a nonprofit. We hear some other excellent plans are in the works, too. Did someone say Christmas brunch?
Dena made another great point. The disappointment meant people were delighted that Charlotte was finally going to have a German Village for which people wouldn’t have to fly across the States or the Atlantic. The Claus’ want to make their visions come to life and have an authentic atmosphere, but it will take some time.
Though this year will not bring wooden huts, the Claus’ won’t give up on finding an alternative material to satisfy the code enforcements. But you better not pout, because I’m telling you why. With the twinkling lights and decorations, and the gorgeous Uptown backdrop, the Village will be unlike any other Christmas celebration in Charlotte.
It’s also conveniently located, especially if you live in an Uptown apartment and want a real Christmas tree. Plus, it’s free thanks to their wonderful sponsors and partners, which include Charlotte Center City Partners and Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation. And you won’t find a more delicious glühwein.
If you don’t get a mug of the glühwein, you won’t get the full Christmas Village experience. Last year, Dena and Paul invited German nationals to taste different recipes of glühwein in order to decide which one was the best and most genuine for the Village. Dover Vineyards of Concord generously recreated their favorite and will be selling a variety of their wines as well as the specially-made glühwein again this year. All glühwein will be served in a souvenir Charlotte Christmas Village mug. Two other familiar vendors will be providing alcoholic beverages to get you feeling holly jolly. Red Clay Ciderworks’ Co-Founder, Deanna Bradish, says they will again serve, “‘Wool Socks,’ a warm or cold winter spiced cider, to add to the festive alcohol choices. Since it helps warm from the insides, our customers call it Christmas in a cup.” Finally, Blue Blaze Brewery will be serving their German-inspired craft beers, such as the Blue Blaze Altbier and the Yellow Blazer Kölsch. Dena and Paul are grateful to work with these local businesses who continue to outdo their holiday spirit.
Carolers, accordion players, dancers, and other musicians will fill the area with holiday music as you shop. If the weather gets chilly, the hospitality tent will be heated and filled with other live music so you can relax with your loved ones and devour some of the scrumptious food. Kids can bundle up there with hot chocolate or other non-alcoholic beverages after meeting Santa Claus on the weekends or participating in arts and crafts.
Get your Christmas sweets, such as roasted nuts, Lebkuchen (gingerbread), almond shortbread, and macaroons from the German bakeries. If you’re in the mood for something savory, popular upscale steakhouse 5Church will be making the bratwurst, or German sausage, sauerkraut, and a mean German potato salad. The village only accepts high quality food choices and products.
“To qualify for the Christmas Market here, you have to be either hand crafted or directly imported from the country of origin,” says Dena. If you need original gift ideas, look no further. Vendors will be selling hand-painted ornaments, nesting dolls from Russia, homemade figurines and toys, and more. Pet Wants will have all natural treats to fill your pet’s stocking and maybe one for your dog being good walking around the Village. A Nepalese woman sells beautiful alpaca wool gloves, scarves, and sweaters—everything is unique and made with love.
Once the sun sets, the Village becomes less busy and more romantic. The evening will feel like a separate event. Go with your friends during the day and then your significant other at night. You’ll be surrounded by dazzling lights, soft music, and a sugary aroma. Your glühwein will warm one hand, and your loved one’s hand will hold the other. It’s a dreamy place to make and capture everlasting memories. The Christmas Village will be open as late as 9 p.m.
Santa’s helpers will close the Charlotte Christmas Village on Christmas Eve. Mr. and Mrs. Claus will then get ready for the 2018 Christmas Village starting as soon as January. This is the beginning of what will someday be as big as Chicago’s Christmas Village. So come out this holiday season to Romare Bearden Park, grab your glühwein, and become a part of the cherished tradition.