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Hugh Carey, Deseret News
Families get a chance to make a wish to Santa at one of the vendors during the Christkindlmarkt at the This is the Place Heritage Park Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — The German tune "Kling Gloeckchen" floated above dozens of small wooden huts containing wares from local craft, art and food sellers Thursday, the first day of Christkindlmarkt.

Channeling the German Christmas markets, this year's Christkindlmarkt, or Christmas market, features booths, parades, musical performances, live reindeer, German yodelers, Alp horns, St. Nicholas visits, story tellers, a Christkind angel, and a gnome festival among other activities.

The festival is service-oriented, drawing on the German celebration of St. Martin, traditionally held in mid-November.

"It gives it a very special feel which you often don't have in the German Christmas markets. It's very commercialized there, and here it has a depth to it," said Antje Evans, who hails from Germany. "Here you have the whole package, what the meaning of Christmas is all about — the kindness and friendship and caring for one another. Those are (the) aspects that make this even more special than the ones that I grew up with."

Thursday evening, the St. Martin's Lantern Parade heralded the beginning of the celebration.

As the story goes, St. Martin was approached by a beggar who asked for some money. Having no money, St. Martin instead cut his cloak in half and gave one piece to the beggar. When he became famous, St. Martin hid himself. The children in the village lit lanterns and searched for him by night to thank him for his service.

The Rev. France A. Davis shared St. Martin's story, along with a message to children to let their light shine. In an interview he said he hoped to communicate to the children that "compassion and kindness are two of the real marks of a genuine human being."

The Rev. Davis said the example of St. Martin shows the importance of seeing others as equals, in spite of recent events in Ferguson and New York.

Youth groups who participated in service projects over the year, including members of Calvary Baptist Church, marched in the parade as a celebration for their service.

"What our effort is, is to empower children to realize they can make a difference," said Kathy Peterson, coordinator of the service aspect of Christkindlmarkt.

Seventeen youth groups participated in service this year, with projects ranging from feeding the homeless in Pioneer Park to collecting coats for the poor and food for homeless animals.

"We put 'kind' in Christkindlmarkt. We just really emphasize that word," Peterson said.

The "cozy and warm atmosphere" of Christkindlmarkt takes place at This is the Place Heritage Park through Saturday, also carries an air of authenticity, said Evans, who serves on the 10-person committee with her mother, Harriet Uchtdorf.

Last year, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was the keynote speaker for Christkindlmarkt. His family emigrated to Germany as refugees from Czechoslovakia when he was 4 years old.

Hours are from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information on Christkindlmarkt, visit their Facebook page or website, christkindlmarkt-slc.com/.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com, Twitter: whitevs7