You know Christmas is coming when chalets start popping up around the Square in downtown Belleville.
Those little brown and green shingled “häuser” (houses) are home to vendors selling their wares from around the world. For the third season, Belleville’s Christkindlmarkt is up and running daily through Dec. 23.
The hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Plus, there are lots of other activities happening around the Square and the market, from food vendors to music to Santa and live reindeer. (See the accompanying information box.)
Christkindlmarkts are popular throughout Germany and have spread across the United States as well, so this is Belleville’s way of bringing a holiday market, German-style, to the metro-east.
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You’ll find 22 chalets and altogether 32 vendors, including some that sell German food and pastries. Carole Piontkowsky, director of the market, said about a third of the vendors will leave by Dec. 8 and be replaced with others. That gives you a reason to come back!
I strolled around Tuesday to visit with vendors and customers. Here’s a sample of what you’ll see.
At Häus 1 on the southeast side of the Square, volunteer Michael Bouquet, representing O’Fallon VFW 805, was selling all things German. He manned the nonprofit Christkindlmarkt chalet, offering everything from pretty silver-plated edelweiss jewelry ($6.50 to $8.50), Bavarian wool hats (less expensive this year at $35), $5 porcelain tile magnets with cute sayings like “Living with a German character,” hand-painted glass shooters and shot glasses ($4.75) and lots more. The VFW, like all the nonprofit groups that help out at the booth, will receive a percentage of the sales they make. The rest goes back to help run the market.
Linda Nelson, of Belleville, was hunting for a gift for her mother, Betty Kramper, who’d moved to Nebraska.
“I want to get her something from Belleville,” Linda said. She and her husband came to the market a couple times last year, and plan to do the same this season.
Linda ended up at Plauener Lace & Gifts, a chalet run by Elke Abate, who was born and raised in Germany and now lives in Georgia.
The two women talked about lace choices and Linda left with a colorful piece that was white with red and green Christmas bells on it.
Elke’s häus is a popular stopping point for visitors to admire the big Steinbach nutcrackers collectors love, lace ornaments ($3 to $7) and wood 3D ornaments that spin (in the $40 range) and have tiny figures of Wise Men, angels, Father Christmas and more. New this year are hand-painted wooden Advent calendars cabinets with little pull-out drawers for $90.
“This is my third year here and we’re doing very well,” Elke said Tuesday.
Across from her, Anna Steffer is back for the second season selling her Memorable Creations homemade jams and jellies, with flavors from sweet to hot, such as Habanero-Orange Marmalade. Jars are $6, or get three for $15.
New this year, said Anna, is her homemade fudge: $2 for a thick piece to nibble on while you stroll and shop. Buy three for $5, or a holiday tin with a dozen pieces for $15.
Sharon Scott, of Belleville, was the “worker bee” that day, helping out owner Hani Mikhail at Unique Glass Gifts. Also back for the second year, the chalet is filled with light and color reflecting off hand-blown glass ornaments made in Egypt. Prices range from $10 to $30, but if you want something just the right size for your mantel or table centerpiece, check out the slender evergreen trees in red, green or gold in three sizes and priced at $10, $15 and $20 each.
Connie Mercer, a volunteer with RSVP, wore a knitted cap and a smile in the Belleville Museums & Memorials chalet on Tuesday. You can pick up some local finds there, including hand-carved cookie molds ($24 to $138), particularly for springerle cookies. Handmade pewter Christmas ornaments from Germany are $17 to $30. Proceeds go to nonprofits such as the Koerner House and the Sept. 11 Memorial.
Out of Africa is a newcomer to the market.
“I am from Kenya and this is the artwork of Africa,” said Gerald Mukuria. “Some of the things are made by orphan children there,” with money going back to their school from the sale of, for example, a necklace bought by Kay Krauss, of Belleville.
“That’s why I’m buying it — and I really like it,” she said of the multi-strand of beads with a pendant.
You’ll find handmade soapstone carvings (a tiger is $45), animal horn rings for $5 and brightly painted wood birds in a variety of sizes for $6 to $30.
And back again is Whimzy Collections. I admit to being partial this chalet. It’s hard to keep my hands off the cashmere sold there. I said it last year and will repeat it again: No doubt the most luxurious bargain of the season are the $30 all-cashmere scarves from Nepal. The long rectangular scarves are in muted shades/patterns of cream, tan, soft grays and browns. Plus, I spotted a few more colorful ones, too.
Other happenings at the market
The city’s market is more than a shopping experience. For example, on Friday, come hear the Sunshine Boys band at 7 p.m. in the heated tent on the Square.
On Saturday, take free photos of you and your family with Prancer and Sven, live reindeer, from 1 to 4 p.m. Then, stick around to hear the Belleville Community Band at 7.
Kids can search for Gustav, the smiling toy mascot (an elf in green lederhosen) in shops along Main Street and the Christkindlmarkt, where they can pick up an activity page and get it stamped for each sighting. The completed entry form goes in the collection box at Local Lucy's (310 E. Main St.) by Dec. 22 for a chance to win a prize.
Also through Dec. 22, check out the Christmas trees at Christkindlmarkt. Decorated by different organizations and businesses that each picked a charity to represent, you can vote daily ($1) for the people's choice award. The winner will receive a $500 donation to its charity on Dec. 22, and all the trees will be given away to families.
Bavarian dancers are expected on the Square at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 10.
See more band and event schedules at www.bellevillechristkindlmarkt.com.