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9 sparkling North American Christmas markets

By Marie Glancy O'Shea, Special to CNN
updated 9:18 AM EST, Thu December 12, 2013
Wayne Wietbrock, a retired farmer from Lowell, Indiana, shops for Christmas ornaments at Christkindlmarket Chicago on December 4. Wayne Wietbrock, a retired farmer from Lowell, Indiana, shops for Christmas ornaments at Christkindlmarket Chicago on December 4.
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Christmas cheer in North America
Christmas cheer in North America
Christmas cheer in North America
Christmas cheer in North America
Christmas cheer in North America
Christmas cheer in North America
Christmas cheer in North America
Christmas cheer in North America
Christmas cheer in North America
Christmas cheer in North America
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Germany hosts world-famous Christmas markets, but you can find them in North America
  • Markets often sell ornaments, traditional German fare and mulled wine
  • Chicago, Denver and Baltimore are among the U.S. cities that host markets

(CNN) -- Christmas trees. Gingerbread houses. Advent calendars. Christmas as we know it is made up of traditions popularized in Germany, and anyone who's been to one of that country's legendary Christmas markets knows that a German Yule is hard to beat.

Happily, over the past two decades or so many North American towns and cities have decided to import the German Christmas market tradition. The most authentic German-style markets come complete with wooden huts selling traditional crafts, sweet and savory German treats, and the all-important mulled wine (glühwein) in collectible mugs. Most also feature activities and entertainments for all ages.

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Denver

Nestled in the snow-capped Rockies, Denver had a strong holiday atmosphere even before introducing its Christkindl Market 12 years ago. Now it channels the Old World at Skyline Park, where glowing stalls sell crafts, gifts and goodies like schnitzel and strudel; there's also plenty of music (much of it German) and an on-site skating rink to add to the flavor. Open November 22-December 21: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission free.

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Tomball, Texas

Tomball's big neighbor is Houston, but its sister city is the town of Telgte in northwest Germany. On the second weekend of December that familial relationship is front and center, as the annual German Christmas Market enlivens the Old Town. Highlights include beer gardens, strolling entertainers, free hayrides and Christmas lights tours, as well as a funfair for kids. Friday, December 13, 6p.m.-10p.m.; Saturday, December 14, 10a.m.-10p.m.; Sunday, December 15, 10a.m.-6p.m. Admission free.

Chicago

This year, Chicago's Christkindlmarket will have its own Christkind -- the blond-haired, elaborately costumed mythical figure who has long been the avatar of Nüremberg's famed market. Visitors to the open-air event at Daley Plaza will also enjoy a selection of family entertainment, from choirs and theater groups to a lantern parade. Open November 26-December 24: Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Closes 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve.) Admission free.

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

Though not held in a town, like most markets, the Osthoff Lake Resort's Old World Christmas Market takes inspiration from the Christmas Market at Nüremberg, the most classic of them all. Stay warm in a heated tent and browse eclectic gifts like Turkish pashminas, Estonia woolens and Russian dolls. Seasonal activities at the resort include cookie decorating workshops, hayrides and brunch with St. Nicholas and his reindeer. Open December 6-15, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission $6 adults; children 14 and under free.

Vancouver, British Columbia

Now in its fourth year, the Vancouver Christmas Market lights up the downtown Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza for more than a month. Vendors sell merchandise with a strong German emphasis -- wooden toys, nutcrackers, Advent wreaths and more. Refreshments are also true to tradition, including bratwurst, freshly-baked waffles, German noodles and Feuerzangenbowle, a warm rum punch. Open November 22 through December 24: 4 p.m.-9 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. weekends. (Closes 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.) Admission $6 adults, $3 children 7-12; children 6 and under free.

Baltimore

This year Baltimore has its own Christmas Village on the city's Inner Harbor, organized by the same company that's brought a Christmas village to Philadelphia since 2008. There are booths inside and outside a heated tent, selling a variety of gifts, ornaments and traditional foods and beverages, including decorated lebkuchen (Christmas cookies). Open November 28-December 24: Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (Closes 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve.) Admission free.

Toronto

The Lowe's Toronto Christmas Market incorporates the ambiance of the Distillery Historic District, a pedestrian-only village of restored Victorian brick buildings. With a variety of food and merchandise vendors, caroling singalongs, multiple lounges for sampling traditional beverages, and other attractions, this is the perfect place to keep warm and merry. Open November 29-December 15: Monday-Friday 12 p.m.-9 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Admission free.

Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania

With a population of fewer than 4,000, this central Pennsylvania town is one of the smallest to mount its own authentic Christmas market. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Mifflinburg Christkindl Market also claims to be the oldest wholly outdoor Christmas market in the United States. Its three-day schedule features marionette shows, juggling, music and other entertainments; treats for kids, including a lantern parade and Kinder World; and a variety of eye-grabbing decorations. Open Thursday, December 12, 4:30-9 p.m.; Friday, December 13, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Saturday, December 14, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Admission free (but donations encouraged).

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Down the road from Mifflinburg, the town of Bethlehem has made good on its biblical name by designating itself "The Christmas City." A key element of its seasonal celebration is the Christmas market. Besides food, gifts and musical performances there are (with purchase of special tickets) carriage rides, walking tours and a breakfast with St. Nick. Open weekends November 21-December 22: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays; 11 a.m.-8 p.m Fridays and Saturdays. Admission $9, $5 for children 6-12; children 5 and under free.

Which Christmas markets would you recommend? Share your comments below.

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