It’s impossible to resist to the Christmas spirit: how can you possibly stay indoors, when the streets are decorated with colourful lights and the smell of roasted chestnuts fills the air?
Are you thinking about Christmas? December won’t be long now, and obviously, you’ve already started making preparations: the menu is still work in progress, and you’ve already ordered the tree, decorations and the new plate set for your Christmas dinner on LOVEThESIGN, as for the presents – ah, right, they are always the last on the list.
Spending time together is possibly one of the most pleasant aspects of Christmas: the entire family comes together, people fill the streets, we try to be better and are more cheerful, and it’s also a magical time when there are more opportunities to get together and Europe is dotted with Christmas markets, or Advent markets if you want to be more precise.
Throughout the years, Christmas markets have become a unique kind of institution in their own way, a port of call where you can find everything you could possibly need to decorate your home and to create a welcoming atmosphere for your guests.
Christmas markets date back to an ancient tradition linked to the world of commerce: records show that in the XIV century tradesmen used to buy in bulk during seasonal fairs, and one of them was usually held in the Advent period. To be more precise, the first Christmas market was held in Dresden, in Germany, as shown in a document from 1434.
An integral part of our tradition, in time Christmas markets haven become so popular that cities often have several Christmas markets at once. The most suggestive? In Vienna (and there are a staggering 22 to choose from). The highest? On mount Pilatus, in Switzerland (at 2132 metres from sea-level, not bad). Each country has its own version of the Christmas market, and it would be impossible to single one out, but without a doubt some markets will outdo others both in terms on originality and flair.
The Andersen Christmas Market in Odense, in Denmark, for example. Whether Christmas is at its best in Scandinavian countries, or whether Hans Christian Andersen’s tales are dear to each and every one of us, this market is a real gem: in fact, once a year the city that was this illustrious writer’s birthplace puts on a show, but they take it very seriously.
In fact, on this occasion the people of Odense wear historical mid-nineteenth century costumes, and at the same time the centre of town is taken over by performances of every kind, from juggling to street parades, from barrel organ concerts to street theatre improvs that put on – of course – Andersen’s wonderful tales. This market is on every weekend in December, and it’s like travelling back in time.
Did it ever occur to you that the city of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, in Israel, has never seen a drop of snow? This image goes against the idea of what a traditional Christmas should be like. I know, but there it is. Forget for a moment the image of a fur-clad Father Christmas being driven along the snow by his reindeer, and try to enjoy a moment of pure Christmas folklore in Malta.
Throughout the month of December, the inhabitants of this island will compete in who has the best nativity scene and they take to the streets and markets in occasion of the Bethlehem f’Ghajnsielem, a sort of living nativity scene that takes place in an area of 20.000 sqm close the island’s capital, Valletta. Whereas, the old town centre is taken over by craft markets, an ancient town literally comes to life and 150 actors, including entire families, take visitors back by 2000 years, with the relevant props: oil lamps, taverns, workshops that sell traditional handmade products and, of course, the grotto where Jesus was born.
Have you had enough of the cold, and are you looking for an indoor event rather than the normal outdoor market? I’ve something for you. The Christmas market in the Dutch town of Valkenborg that takes place in the Kastelruine complex to be more precise. The Kastelruine complex is actually a series of underground tunnels that go as far back as the Romans; they were originally dug to mine marl, a type of stone used for the construction of buildings and castles. In time, Kastelruine became a sort of never-ending labyrinth, hidden under the soil where the famous Dutch tulips were known to grow.
Used throughout the centuries in a variety of different ways, nowadays this underground tunnel is open to the public for guided tours and plenty more besides: from the 17th November to the 23rd December, one of the most unique markets around takes placed in the XVIII century underground chapel, originally frescoed by the Romans.
The additional prize goes to Naples: in fact, it’s Christmas all year round in the most exuberant town of Italy. It’s precisely here that you can find the famous via San Gregorio Armeno in the Spaccanapoli neighbourhood, an entire street devoted to selling nativity scenes. Here, workshop after workshop, craftsmen with extraordinary skills work tirelessly from January to December to make any character you could possibly dream of for your nativity scene. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re a fan of Maradona, Berlusconi or Michael Jackson: you can have them all in your nativity scene along with the Wise Men, during the most beautiful and unique time of the year.
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