It is all about Christmas time these days. The streets are decorated with various lights and illuminations, show cases sparkle with beautiful New Year dressing and all sorts of adornments, while people rush to main squares in their cities, where the awaited Christmas fairs cannot but amaze with a shower of gifts, souvenirs, fancies of national cuisine and, of course, vivid festive performances and entertainments. It is difficult to define what is more amusing, the long-desired Christmas holiday itself or the entire month of preparations and rejoicings?
Christmas markets are believed to origin in Germany, concluding this country can boast of the brightest pre-Christmas allurements designed for both locals and foreigners. In practice, it might be referred to four major fairs that are in Cologne, Dresden, Munich, and Nurnberg. This year the earliest one started in Cologne, which, by the way, gathers the biggest number of foreign visitors every year. Their number often reaches the point of more than 2 million people, alerted with appealing Christmas spirit around, wooden souvenir and cacao vendors, and shining skating ranks. Truly, from late November up to the very Holy Night Cologne turns into a dreamlike place to visit.
Neighboring Belgium hosts a big number of Christmas fairs as well, dispersed over big and small cities. Brussels is no doubts a front-runner among tourists. The main events and sales take place on Saint-Catherine square, where on food counters one may try all the highlights of Belgian cooking traditions – pots of mussels and clams or peppered sea snails, roast meat dishes, Belgian waffles and soft sugar donuts, as well as two of the most loved around the world things – delicious chocolate and stout beer. Pre-Christmas “march” usually ends up on the Fish Market, where a long skating rink is towered by a great Ferris wheel. Surely, the ride would be the best option to view pre-Christmas Brussels in all its glory.
Piazza Navona in Rome is more of stunning Christmas performances, than festive souvenirs. It is famous for its touching installations of the birth of Christ in a life-size. Above all, kids are likely to face the hero of the day – Bobbo Natale, commonly known as Santa Klaus. Due to absence of fireplaces in Italy, the local Santa ascends in the window on a rope ladder; one can imagine how funny looks the old man in a red suit climbing over a rope! The play of Santa Claus appearance is one of the distinctive traditions of Italian pre-Christmas rejoicings. The other is related to appearance of an old lady Befana on January 6th, who gives presents to obedient children and embers to the obstinate ones.
The fairy tale spirit of Christmas is also adhered in Copenhagen, where brilliant masterworks by Hans Christina Andersen enliven the Tivioli Park. While children are busy with challenging all the attractions and amusements, adults have a chance to try famous Scandinavian Glögg, in particular, the stronger recipe of gluehwein, and apple gingerbread. The entire image of Tivoli Park is reminiscent to Andersen’s giant treasury casket, framed with 14 km of sparkling garlands.
Strasbourg is a Christmas capital in Europe. The core is a huge New Year Tree, nearly 26 meters high, which is dressed in blue colors’ background, symbolic to Europe and the EU. In 2013 Gutenberg Square hosts 442nd Christmas market in this city. One of its traditional features implies organizing a faerie concert in the Metropolitan Cathedral, presented by different country every year. In 2013 Strasbourg audience are invited to listen to orchestra from Georgia. Thus, it is not for nothing, the city is recognized as the most welcoming and hospitable place in Europe.
Guest post by Maria Kruk, an author for Belgium.net