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Christmas Shopping at the Market Square Holiday Market in Knoxville, TN (Updated for 2021)

Locally made arts & crafts, fantastic street food, and carolers are just a few of the things found at the Market Square Holiday Market in Knoxville.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

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Every Saturday throughout December the Market Square Holiday Market takes over in the center of downtown Knoxville. Local artisans pitch tents, set up tables, and display their crafts just in time for some Christmas shopping. It’s one of the best holiday markets I’ve ever come across. Here are a few things I noticed about the Market Square Holiday Market when I visited one year.

Christmas in Knoxville

This article is part of the Christmas in Knoxville series, a travel guide I wrote after spending a week in December in Knoxville, TN. The travel guide will help you discover Christmas in the city during a weekend visit for the events, light displays, local shopping, dining, and lodging.

Lots of Fantastic Arts, Crafts, and Food

Dozens of tents lined the street with tables, wall panels, and easels displaying all sorts of locally made arts and crafts. With one walk through the market I spotted lots of clothing, jewelry, some woodworking, a few potters, and all kinds of unique arts and crafts. It was really a great place to explore for some unique gift ideas and almost certain to surprise the recipient. 

The locals love the Market Square Holiday Market. Although I arrived just an hour after it opened (the market typically stays open 11am-5pm on Saturdays in December) it was already packed with shoppers. Many of them were legitimate shoppers, as opposed to “window” shoppers, as their stuffed bags indicated. I didn’t have much of a chance to chat with any of the artisans because they were so busy chatting with potential customers.

As I browsed the goods, popped into tents, and scanned the tables I saw one artisan who used old license plates welded together and cut into the shape of various states. Another artisan used billiard balls attached to a bottle opener for a fantastic unique gift idea. I think my personal favorite was the Wright Mason Co. who took old Mason jars and gave them new life by turning them into “jar lamps”.

Arts and crafts weren’t the only amazing things being sold at the market. I came across a couple of food trucks on the side streets with long lines and happy customers. Bulls BBQ rolled up to the scene in an old school bus that I found rather interesting. But the most interesting was my first experience with Dale’s Fried Pies. For just $3 a piece I had my choice of freshly fried carmel apple, cherry, chocolate, or bacon mac n’ cheese pies. I’m not ashamed to admit I tried one of each and thoroughly enjoyed them all.

Carolers sing Christmas songs during the Market Square Holiday Market.

The Christmas Spirit Thrived

A woman walked past me wearing reindeer antlers on her head. A man walked his dog with a candy cane striped dog leash. Carolers roamed through the crowd filling the air with Christmas melodies.

The Christmas spirit was thriving at the Market Square Holiday Market. The street vendors were selling hot apple cider and hot cocoa for the shoppers. People were chatting and near giddy to find the perfect unique gift idea for someone special. I won’t go so far as to say it was magical because magic isn’t real; everything I saw at the market was very real.

More times than I could count I heard the squeal of approval as someone shouted, “They will love this,” or “It’s perfect for [insert name]!” This holiday market was not a place to come shopping for yourself but rather anyone and everyone else. Some of the artisans were even offering Christmas bags or gift wrapping to go with the purchase.

One family’s annual Chritmas tradition involved a scavenger hunt at the Market Square Holiday Market.

Shopping is a Family Activity

The age-old stereotype of the weary husband sitting in the car while the wife shops could not have been more false at the Market Square Holiday Market. Husbands and wives, dating couples, brothers and sisters, entire families were out in full force shopping through the locally made arts and crafts.

I spotted Sherry, an out-of-town visitor from Waynesville, North Carolina, pulling a large black trash bag out of her purse. When I asked why she was putting her new purchase into a trash bag she smiled and replied, “So the kids can’t see what I just bought.” It reminded me of times past when my own parents would take us to Toys ‘R Us for Christmas shopping and hide the gifts in black trash bags in the back of our Ford Bronco, only Sherry has decided to shop local to do the same.

Just as I was on my way out of the throng of shoppers I noticed a large family dashing about with printed documents firmly grasped in their gloved hands. At first I thought it was a shopping list but they just seemed to intent to check the items off the list. I asked one of the ladies what it was all about and got an answer I never expected: it was a scavenger hunt!

As it turned out the Carlisle family had been coming to Knoxville for Christmas shopping for nearly ten years. Each year the large extended family would draft a scavenger hunt filled with items like a sleigh, Santa Claus with someone in his lap, and someone wearing college sports gear, and then they would hit Market Square on Saturday morning to see who could finish the list first.

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