Please tell me I can still blog about the holidays. I’m a little thrown by the “high of 13 C / 55 F” today, and the sunshine that has me scrambling to wash laundry. We haven’t seen a single flurry this year, but darkness—darkness we’ve had plenty. The long days of summer take their toll on Delft: two weeks past the solstice, the sun’s still coming up just before 9:00 and setting around 16:45.
All across Europe, the winter nights are the setting for Christmas markets and light-up nights. Delft’s lichtjesavond (mid-December) is similar to a US town’s “tree lighting” as pertains to the first illumination of a large tree—but Delft’s also includes a Christmas market, stands of hot chocolate and gluwein, free concerts outside and in the historic churches, and fire on the canals.
Lichtjesavond is one of my favorite nights of the whole year. The Christmas market is fun to browse, though some of it is outright junk. The best stalls are those by local artisans or food establishments (the ham sandwiches outside Slagerij Leo van Vliet—mmm).
The Gemeente estimates that 50,000 people turn out for Delft’s night, and that’s a lot on little medieval streets. This year I took a walk just as the sun was setting, between 4 and 5, which was quite pleasant. Then we felt less pressured to fight through the thickest crowds (probably 7-9 PM). Things quiet down pretty early, as vendors close and families turn in.
At the end of that same week, we finally made it to an event that’s been on my list for years—Gouda bij Kaarslicht (Gouda by Candlelight). Gouda’s night is more specifically focused around candles—notably the 1500 candles illuminating the town hall windows (below).
In contrast to Delft, there was no specific market in Gouda, and the main activity was a longish dramatic reading with music that occurred just before the tree itself was lit (the tree is dark in the photo above). This was in Dutch, and we were way in the back of the crowd; it was mostly lost on us, so we decided to keep walking (rather than standing still in the freezing cold). If you enjoy atmospheric strolls, Gouda bij Kaarslicht is lovely. Every little house and establishment seemed to participate in the candle-lighting, from tapers in the window to rows of tea lights along the canals.
We didn’t find a lot to “do” in Gouda that night, and wound up just choosing a restaurant and eating a long leisurely meal, with a walk both before and after. When we’d finished dinner, the crowds had thinned and the candles in the stadhuis had been extinguished, but the tree remained (electrically) lit in Gouda’s dramatic main square.
The following week we were off to Budapest, happily using the last of Tim’s vacation days for 2013. We enjoyed the Christmas markets in Budapest very much, and the warm foods and drinks were a welcome fix after hours touring in the cold. By food I mostly mean meat. Meat, meat, and meat (though it was our fortune to discover kürtös kalács: warm, fresh pastry cylinders rolled over a fire and then rolled in a coating like crushed nuts or sugar).
We strolled several times through the busy market at Vörösmarty Square (Ter), but would happen upon others through the city’s open spaces. There was one spilling out in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica; an artsy market in a building just near Deák Tér metro (Help me out if you know the name!); and a beautiful, quiet local market in front of the church at Bakáts Tér, off Ráday utca.
I’m not a person who loves being in the cold just for the sake of the crisp air, but I love the Christmas market season. We found this an enchanting time to be in Budapest (though I was grateful for my down coat and had my scarf yanked up to cover 3/4 of my face most of the time).
I nearly finished this post without remarking on New Year’s Eve (one of my other favorite nights in Delft). After a very, very quiet expat Christmas, we had dinner with a handful of friends in our apartment on December 31. A French friend had organized the meal, with everyone responsible for a different element. We know too many good cooks, and we were stuffed to the point of disaster before we even reached the last courses (French cheese, and cake). We hauled ourselves to the Markt in Delft to add our firework to the maelstrom.
I hope that your winter has been full of light, and that you make many warm memories in the early months of 2014!
More info on Budapest Christmas markets: