The History of the Mifflinburg Christkindl Market
In 1987 native Austrian Rudi Skucek conceived a Christkindl Market for Mifflinburg. Rudi and his wife Joannah moved their family back to her hometown in Pennsylvania after he retired a few years earlier. At that time the local Main Street organization was searching for a town event that would be uplifting, celebrate the German heritage of the area, and promote the small town of Mifflinburg.
It took Rudi and Joannah a year to convince the community that an outdoor event such as the traditional German Christkindl market could be successful in cold December. The next hurdle was to inform everyone about the significance of such a market. Rudi gave slide presentations of German markets to children in local schools, to service clubs, to the Borough Council, and other organizations. Although he had an engaging and convincing personality, warmth-loving Americans found it hard to believe that anyone would come to an outdoor market lined with huts in cold and snowy weather conditions. What vendors would freeze for three days while trying to promote their products?
Finally, twenty huts were built, the street was closed, and the first Market began in 1989. Other bazaars and Christmas markets existed in several US communities, but none was completely outdoors. Mifflinburg led the tradition and today claims to be the oldest outdoor Christmas market in the US.
The main thrust was to keep it as authentic to European markets as possible. Inspired by the 700-year old tradition of the Christkindlmarkt, or Christ Child Market, mainly celebrated in Germany and Austria, this festive event is prepared by the town’s churches, organizations, schools and residents.
Rudi and Joannah brought the first prune men, Zwetschezkenmänner, from Germany and convinced a local Mennonite resident to produce them. Gingerbread hearts with German phrases were shown to the Methodist Church, who made them for many years. (That tradition has since passed to the Gutelius House Museum.) Skucek created a booth, importing original German wooden Christmas figures and table Christmas pyramids. Whether customers came to buy his wares or talk with Rudi is debatable. His charm and enthusiasm pervaded the Market ambience.
It was less difficult to find clubs, organizations and school groups to prepare German foods. The Market air immediately filled with the aroma of Bratwurst, Apfelstrudel, Hungarian goulash, and Glühwein (hot mulled wine).
Some visitors claim that the little town of Mifflinburg has a Christkindl market more authentic than most German markets. The committee that organizes the annual event is amused by the creative ideas that other, more recently-developed American Christkindl markets have gathered from this small nook of 3,500 residents.
Rudi Skucek died in 2007, but his legacy lives on. Today’s Market, expanded from 20 to over 100 vendors, has become firmly rooted in Mifflinburg’s history and an annual pilgrimage for many visitors. In 2012 the Christkindl Market became an independent entity, incorporated as Christkindl Market of Mifflinburg, Inc.