Christmas is upon us, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much holiday cheer in my life.
My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas extravagantly. We spend it together, obviously, and there’s always a tree and presents and yummy food, but it’s not the huge deal that I know it is for most. It’s probably because our immediate family is small, and the others aren’t readily nearby.
Obviously, family members are even less readily nearby this year. But Christmas is a huge deal in Europe, and the spirit is contagious.
This past weekend, Christmas markets have sprung up all over the continent. These little gems sell hand-made crafts, holiday decorations and other random finds. Even better, the adorable shacks also hold toasty drinks and tasty snacks.
The market in Brussels has 250 vendors, a giant Ferris wheel, an indoor cafe and the coolest merry-go-round I have ever seen (quirky and industrial-looking, with robots and mythical creatures, in true Belgian fashion). It’s a long line in Place St. Catherine, but also curves around the church and around the Bourse.
Like most markets, there’s lots of hot wine to be consumed, but you can also find hot beer.
Luckily, it’s only the Kriek cherry beer, which warmed up tastes like fruit punch for grown-ups. Can you imagine Stella served piping hot? Gag.
On Friday night, the market was packed with folks taking brightly colored shots of Jenever and little ones snuggled up with warm waffles and candy. Families and tourists piled into the Grand Place to admire the tree and hyper-modern light show.
On Sunday, I ventured to the market in Lille, France.
Lille is a decently large, industrial city north of Paris. At only 35 minutes by train, Lille is a ridiculously easy gateway to France for Brussels-dwellers. The city center is gorgeous, with lovely historic houses and plenty of attractive restaurants.
The market itself was less than half the size of the one in Brussels, but it held more charm and authentic Christmas cheer. And of course, there was still plenty of hot wine.
The entire city center was in the holiday spirit, with random merry-go-rounds and vendors in every plaza. The old town was a cute evening stroll as well, with its cobblestoned streets and stone homes only viewable by twinkle lights.
From what I’ve been told, the Christmas market in Brussels is too commercial to be a “good” market. After seeing the more quaint market in Lille, I understand the criticism, and I’m even more excited to see the “good” markets in Denmark, Germany and Austria. But for now, I’m still too enamored with the simple idea of Christmas markets to complain just yet.