Lately I’ve visited a couple of Christmas markets. There is nothing like Christmas in Europe – the decorations, Gluhwein, people out in the cold with friends. Of course, it’s not all that cold where I am; but even where it is, it doesn’t deter the hardy Europeans from getting outside. Like New Englanders, I think, they know that if they wait for good weather, they’ll be inside all winter, so they bundle up and out they go!
Skaters in freezing Cologne, Germany
Most markets run throughout December until the day before Christmas Eve, when they tend to close down en masse so that workers can spend the holidays with their families. And if you don’t like crowds, you probably won’t enjoy them unless you prepare yourself in advance or go early. The crowds develop after 11:00 a.m. or so and they are often so thick you can barely move! For this reason I don’t do very many markets in a season; one or two are all I can handle, especially those of the German variety.
Crowds just inside the Aachen Christmas Market
Last night, I went to Brussels, where Sainte Catherine’s Market is less crowded than most. This particular market is beautifully decorated with red lights in the trees and complete with a big Ferris Wheel.
Sainte Catherine Market
This time I rode the doggone thing, and it was great! Five euros gets you five times ‘round, and the views are spectacular!
The View from the Ferris Wheel
There was a rather large ice rink with folks skating away on slushy ice. The booths with things for sale were mostly hawking items made in China, and there were a lot of food stands. The Gluhwein was fair; the warm white wine was better, Alsatian, one of my favorites. And I met Charlie Chaplain!
Charlie Chaplin and Me
Between Gare Central and the Grande Place in Brussels
The Grande Place puts on a terrific show at Christmas, as I’ve written about before here. This year was much better than last because they have a REAL TREE again. Last year’s monstrosity of lighted panels created a controversy that stupidly had not been foreseen. A centuries-old environment demands a live tree! And this year’s light show did not disappoint! See a video of it here.
The beautiful live tree in the 2013 Brussels Grande Place
Brussels’ Hotel de Ville during the light and music show.
Last year, I went to Koln (Cologne) Germany with a friend, just after Christmas, so we missed the markets but saw the most incredible store windows, still decorated for the holidays!
Animated store window in Cologne
Pretty little Nativity scene in a Cologne store window
In spite of how much I love the Brussels market, it is no match for Germany at Christmas; the German markets remind me of my teen years when I lived there with my mom and sister. My stepdad was in the US Army; he did a tour in Aschaffenburg, and we came along. Nostalgia and memories flood me at the German markets, thinking of my mom and how much I miss her – she went home to be with the Lord three years ago. So I walk through the German markets with a head swimming with memories, running my thumb along the ring on my left index finger, the very one she bought me thirty seven years ago at the ChristKindle Markt in Nuremburg. How it makes me smile to remember! 
Aachen, Germany, Market
Aachen booths sell all kinds of arts and crafts, as well as the made-in-China variety.
Flammekuchen, cracker thin crust pizza cooked to order, yum.
Nuremburg is also the market where my perception of Santa was scarred for life. It was there that a Father Christmas, decked out in long red tunic and beard, tried to sell me and my high school pals hashish! Santa was never the same for me after that… I have never returned to Nuremburg since. Maybe next year!
 If you want to read about What Living Feels Like when you are suddenly without your best friend and Mom, here is the first blog I wrote: http://whatlivingfeelslike.blogspot.be/ It isn’t easy to read, but I think it’s meaningful, and it has ministered to a couple of friends when their moms passed away.