Immediately, the smell of cinnamon flooded visitors’ senses as they walked into the European Christmas Market in downtown St. Paul. Saturday morning, the East Plaza at Union Depot was transformed into a classic German-style holiday market.
Situated near the plaza’s entrance, the Nuttin Like It booth’s cinnamon roasted almonds provided the perfect welcoming holiday scent.
“Nuttin Like It” was one of 42 wooden huts — each with a festive, yellow star-shaped light hanging from its peak — at the market. Vendors offered European sweets, German-style brats, woolen sweaters, mittens, and hats, Polish pottery and many other handmade items.
“These are the traditional wooden huts that they have in Austria and Germany. That’s a cultural event that started more than 500 years ago. Now it’s in Belgium, France … actually, there’s one in Shanghai too, I’m told. And Buenos Aires!” said Renate Sharp, the market’s founder. Now, the tradition continues in St. Paul, Minnesota.
This year’s market — the fifth European Holiday Market in St. Paul — is the largest yet. The market has 50 percent more vendors than last year, Sharp said.
The event has expanded so much in recent years that it now takes place over two weekends.
Holiday shoppers of all ages filled the plaza, many cradling forest green mugs filled with hot coffee or mulled wine in their gloved hands.
Claire Corvaisier, owner of Oh Crêpe!, was working hard to supply crepes to the masses. Corvaisier is a native of Brittany, the region of France where the thin pancakes originated.
Though she only began her crepe business in May, her hut was popular at the market.
Corvaisier and her team of helpers served both savory crepes with cheeses and meats and sweeter varieties with choices of Nutella, cinnamon apples or salted caramel and cookie crumble fillings.
“I’m going to be here every day of the six days. It’s a good event to be at. … It’s busy!” Corvaisier said.
One market-goer, Lawrence Stahl, was absolutely delighted to be there on Saturday morning. He was dressed in festive reds and greens to prove it.
“I lived in Germany for five years, so whenever there’s an event like this … like an Oktoberfest or something … [I go],” he said. “I really miss Germany and I miss Christmastime there.”
University of Minnesota senior Claire Humes saw the event on Facebook and decided to go with a group of friends.
“It’s the first day of December and so we wanted to see what it was like,” she said.
Embracing the holiday spirit, Humes tried mulled wine served at one of the market’s warming houses and a pretzel from the Burbach’s European Pancakes hut.
“Maybe this will be a Christmas tradition,” she said.
Even with the market’s recent success, Sharp has a bold vision and strong memories of extraordinary German Christmas markets to live up to.
“In Berlin, they have 53 markets. We need to grow,” she said.
“So, next year, hopefully [we will have] three weekends.”
What: St. Paul European Christmas Market
When: Friday, 4 to 9 p.m., Saturday, 11 to 9 p.m., Sunday, 12 to 6 p.m. and Monday, 4 to 9 p.m.
Where: East Plaza at Union Depot, 240 E. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul