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Peoria's Kristkindlmarkt celebrates the holiday season and German heritage surrounding the Tri-County

Kristkindlmarkt Welcome Sign
Kristkindlmarkt of Peoria Facebook Page
The Kristkindlmarkt welcome sign.

Nothing says holiday season like candied nuts, hot chocolate, Santa Claus, and an array of local vendors to shop from. Those are just some elements that will be included in Harmonie’s Kristkindlmarkt in Peoria on Saturday.

Jeff Pulfer is president of Harmonie Concordia, a men’s singing group affiliated with the German American Central Society of Peoria, and the organization that is presenting the market. He also serves as chair of Peoria’s Kristkindlmarkt. While everyone regardless of heritage is sure to find things to enjoy at the holiday market this season, many don’t know about the Peoria area’s longstanding German roots.

Jeff Pulfer, President of Harmonie Concordia and Chair of Peoria's Kristkindlmarkt
Jody Holtz
Jeff Pulfer, president of Harmonie Concordia and Chair of Peoria's Kristkindlmarkt.

“When you go back in time each community is a little different. At one time half the population of Pekin was all based off of German descendants. In fact in Pekin before World War I, if you did not speak German you couldn’t get a job in skilled trades,” explained Pulfer.

Many people with German backgrounds can also be found in places like Morton and Germantown Hills, appropriately named after the German Catholics that lived in the area around 1837. In Peoria, he estimates about 35-40% of the population has German ties in one way or another.

While Germans have been residing in the Peoria area for a very long time, it wasn’t always as acceptable to show pride for their German roots.

“It was kind of downplayed during World War I and World War II. There was quite a bit of German pushback because we were fighting against the Germans … some people modified their last name … to be more Americanized. There was also a big push after World War I by a lot of the German clubs to become more integrated into American society,” said Pulfer.

After many German clubs tried to assimilate into American culture, traditions, especially those around the holidays, began to blend together.

“If you look at some more traditions we have in the United States like Christmas and Easter, they came from Germany, but they've been so embraced by American culture, you don't realize this actually started in Germany,” said Pulfer.

The Kristkindlmarkt seeks to celebrate as many signature German traditions, foods, and cultural elements as possible. These festive markets originated during the Reformation Era by Martin Luther. The name Christkindl, translating to “Christ Child”, descends from the idea of having a little girl, or angel, represent the Christmas markets, which were typically set up around various churches throughout Germany.

The Kristkindlmarkt in Peoria is based heavily on these traditional markets found in Germany and other European cities, and Pulfer says they even plan to have a "Christ Child" walking around the market handing out candy canes. While many people are familiar with the Kristkindlmarkt in Chicago, Pulfer says to expect Peoria’s to be a little different.

“Chicago vendors tend to be the same ones every year, year after year. Well, I get a mix of new vendors … What's different about us and other Christmas marts. We have live entertainment from 11 o'clock to about 5:30, like they do in Germany, plus we got the food. We got German beer available. We also have kids activities for the first time ever,” said Pulfer.

About 40 vendors will be set up at the market, which is set to take place at Exposition Gardens in Peoria. This will be the first time the market is held at the fairgrounds.

“We didn’t do it last year because of COVID, but this year we’re bringing it back. Little bit of change in format though because we used to do two weekends at Lindenhof on Harker…but because of COVID and spacing required for the vendors, and quite frankly we kind of outgrew the Lindehof in my opinion, were doing Expo Gardens one day on Saturday, Dec. 11,” said Pulfer.

Traditionally, the market is usually a mix of indoors and outdoors, but Pulfer says the entire market will be indoors this season.

Popular German fare will be available for purchase, such as bratwurst, schnitzel, sauerkraut balls, stollen, and glühwein, the famous mulled, spiced wine that is a signature at many Kristkindlmarkts around the world.

Other highlights include an appearance from Santa Claus, children's games, and an extensive live music line up. However, Pulfer says the best thing about the market is the Christmas magic it brings.

“If you’re looking for something different to do and a new experience, come out and visit our Christmas market. It’s just a great place to get some Christmas magic.”

The Kristkindlmarkt located at Exposition Gardens on Northmoor road in Peoria is this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. More information about the market can be found on their Facebook page. You can also learn more about the German American Central Society and Harmonie Concordia.

Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program and development director, All Things Considered host, as well as the producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.