When I was a child, I would awake in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve and creep to the living room.  Peering around the corner, I would gaze at the lit Christmas tree.  Surrounded by brightly wrapped presents of all shapes and sizes, it stood like a beacon of wonder and excitement.  A sudden tingling feeling would jump to my throat, I would suppress a joyful shout, flee back to my bed, and shiver under the covers in feeble hope of returning back to sleep.

Whenever the snow falls and hushes all noise and worry, and the soft gleam of colored lights casts a warm glow around me, I feel that same magical Christmas feeling.  It’s a small, warm sensation that begins deep in my heart and slowly stretches out until my toes feel like wiggling right out of their boots.  The feeling now is more fleeting than when I was a child, because the magic of Christmas fades as you get older and find yourself with all kinds of new troubles.  But there are some things that help bring that magic back, even if only for a little while.

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One of those things is the St. Paul European Christmas Market.  Set among the beautiful East Plaza at Union Depot, this event has just the right ingredients to warm the hearts of even the Scroogiest of Grinches.  As you stroll up and down the plaza, the lights glowing against the snow, the smells of mulled wine, sizzling sausages, and roasted nuts wafting about, and the joyful faces of fellow shoppers will bring you right back to those Christmas Eve nights of anticipation.

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The root of this Christmas magic runs deep.  The first Christmas market dates back to as early as 1294, so understanding its history is just as important as the market itself.  Here you’ll see some of the more familiar traditions like decorating Christmas trees and singing carols, to lesser-known traditions such as the arrival of the Christkind, acted out by a local boy, on the first night of the festival.  These traditions vary from culture to culture, but the emphasis on family, friends, and Christmas goodies is shared by all.  This is why the European Christmas Market — an exceptional shopping experience — is more than just that.  As you wander around the booths, historic Lowertown sets the perfect stage for an immersive cultural experience, all while supporting local business and artisans.

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In true holiday spirit, the Christmas Market is free and open to the public.  If you’re looking for a little bit more, make sure you plan your visit around some of the events hosted at adjacent Union Depot.  The Fourth Annual Holiday Tree Lighting will be held on the first day of the Christmas Market on December 1st at 5:30pm, followed by a complimentary showing of the movie Elf at 7:30pm.  Concessions are available for purchase, with all proceeds going to Neighborhood House, a multi-service agency serving the community with a variety of programs.  

European Christmas Market

For the train enthusiast, catch a ride on the North Pole Express, a bonafide hour and a half long steam train ride complete with a visit from Santa and delicious Christmas treats.  Ticket proceeds go toward the maintenance of the beautiful steam engine, ensuring future generations can share the experience of stepping back in time to feel the magic of Christmases past.  If you want to try to fit into your jeans post-festivities, the Depot will continue to host free yoga on Saturday mornings from 9-10am, but if you’re sticking with spandex all season, make sure you get tickets to the Fifth Annual Holiday Bake Sale on December 9th.

To plan a perfect evening of Christmas festivities, visit uniondepot.org and stpaulchristmasmarket.com for more information on dates and times.  However you celebrate this year, I’m sure you’ll be able to find a bit of that Christmas magic.


By Whitney Grindberg