The Christmas market season is in full bloom, and Century Downs Racetrack and Casino will be putting its usual German-themed spin on the tradition with its upcoming Weihnachtsmarkt, to be held Dec. 3 and 4.
Outdoor Christmas markets (known as Weihnachtsmärkte) are time-honoured traditions in Germany, where shoppers peruse stalls selling handmade stocking-stuffers while sipping Glühwein (mulled wine) and eating German street foods.
Century Downs' Austrian head chef Josef Schonauer introduced the German holiday shopping tradition to the Balzac-based casino and horse-racing track seven years ago, and the venue hasn't looked back since.
“We took a little COVID break but we’ve been pretty consistent for the last seven years,” said Karen Franco, Century Downs' marketing director. She added shoppers can nibble on schnitzel, pretzels and bratwurst and sip on mulled wine as they peruse the stalls.
“Our chef is Austrian, so it’s a wonderful opportunity for him to share some of his favourite street foods with our guests,” she said. “That always adds a fun touch.”
Franco said 70 vendors had signed onto this year's Weihnachtsmarkt as of Nov. 23, allowing shoppers to check out an assortment of gift ideas.
“We’ve got a really nice mix of local craftspeople with pottery, knitting, ornaments, paintings, woodwork – it’s just a really wide range of handmade items, local crafters and creators displaying their wares,” she said.
The bustling market will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Century Downs barns, just to the north of the main casino. Parking is free and signage will direct motorists on how to get there.
Admission to the market is also free, but Franco said Century Downs will be accepting donations on behalf of the Children's Make A Wish Foundation.
With Christmas markets in full flow by this time of year, the Dec. 3 and 4 weekend may be the busiest dates on the calendar for market enthusiasts, which means Century Downs will have plenty of competition to attract shoppers through its doors. Spruce Meadows' annual Christmas market south of Calgary will be wrapping up Dec. 2 to 4, while nearby New Horizon Mall, Airdrie, and Strathmore will also be hosting markets on those dates.
Franco said she hopes shoppers will use the opportunity to make a full day of it by visiting multiple markets on the same weekend.
“To the best of my knowledge, there are at least four or five that I know of that first weekend [of December],” she said. “[Christmas markets are] popular, but I’m hoping people can take that idea and create a whole day around it.
“There’s no reason you can’t plan your Saturday based on visiting us and then visiting a market in Airdrie. We’re hoping people will build their itinerary accordingly and hit all their favourite Christmas markets.”
The German-themed Christmas market isn't the only way Century Downs is preparing for the holiday season. According to Franco, the casino is also hosting a holiday-themed paint night on Dec. 14, which interested participants can sign up for on the Century Downs website.
As well, she said the venue is hosting its annual Christmas-themed murder mystery dinner and show on Dec. 17, but noted that popular event is already sold out.
To finish off 2022 in style, Franco said Century Downs will host its usual New Year's Eve celebration on Dec. 31, complete with a fireworks display in the evening to cap off the festivities.