URBANA — In Caroline Riggs’ hometown of Hardheim, like in towns all over Germany, the local fire department heads into the forest each year to pick out a suitable tree to chop down and display.
Around that tree in the center of town, a Christmas market is built.
When she saw the 31-foot-tall glass Christmas tree that artist Jason Mack crafted in downtown Champaign last year, Riggs imagined one of those Christmas markets around it. It just so happened that the year before, she and her husband, Matt, held one of those markets at their brewery, Riggs Beer Company, in southeast Urbana.
“I went to see the tree last year in downtown Champaign, and I was kind of missing the Christmas market around it,” she said, “and our Christmas market (in 2019) was missing a cool, big tree.”
This year, the market and the tree will converge.
Mack will build a taller tree, which will break last year’s world record for the tallest glass tree ever, in what will be the middle of this year’s German Christmas Market at the brewery in Urbana. In addition to Christmas goods for sale, the market will feature traditional German foods, including bratwurst, curry wurst and potato pancakes, and drink, including hot spiced wine along with hot cocoa.
Mack began building the foundation and frame for the market Tuesday and will begin crafting the tree the weekend after Thanksgiving, when the market opens. People who donate to various causes, including the Champaign County Humane Society, Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club, Eastern Illinois Food Bank and United Way will be able to add melted glass into the tree.
“The whole thing is kind of a performance-art piece,” Mack said. “When people show up on that first day, which is Black Friday, it’ll mostly be an armature with some glass on it. By the end of the fourth weekend, it’ll be a full glass tree, and we’ll have put about 5,000 pounds of glass on it.”
Mack said Riggs Beer Company, which he connected with through mutual friends, gives him better infrastructure to work with than downtown Champaign, where he set up shop in an empty parking lot last year.
People can donate green and clear glass at Riggs Beer Company, where containers will be set up to accept it. After the tree is finished, that glass will be melted down again and Mack will make ornaments, which he’ll pre-sell at his website, mackglass.com, to fund the project.
In future years, Mack said he wants to make the tree bigger and bigger. With the help of a civil engineer and architect, he said, it might be possible to build a 100-foot tree someday.
For now, Mack is excited about building an even bigger and better tree than last year’s. And with a year of experience, he’ll add at least one additional feature.
“About 500 people asked me last year, ‘When are you going to put the star on?’” Mack said. “And I was just struggling to get the tree done by Christmas, so I wasn’t even worried about the star. But this year, I think we’re going to do a big, hand-blown star at the top.”