Holidays in Roermond

Well, I can’t let all of January go by without talking about the holiday season here in Roermond!

Firstly, in case you didn’t know, the holidays are a long, drawn-out affair in Europe. In The Netherlands, cities put up their holiday decorations in late October/early November. Sinterklaas comes to town sometime in late November (I’m not sure what forces exactly drive his calendar), and then visits Dutch children on Dec 5. Christmas itself happens on the 25th, but decorations stay up until King’s Day/Twelfth Night/Epiphany (or whatever the local term for it is) in early January.

In New Orleans, Christmas decorations also stay up until King’s Day, and that is also the day that officially starts Mardi Gras season, and when the first King Cake makes its appearance. Mmmmmm king cake. I am happy to learn that Mardi Gras/Carnival is also a big deal down here in Limburg, and it’s an early one this year, so the next couple weeks will be full of festivities and the streets are full of costume and carnival pop-up shops.

Marktplein, Roermond, at Christmas
Marktplein, Roermond, at Christmas

ANYWAY, for these reasons, you will have seen a lot of the Christmas decorations back in my Snow Day post, and those are better because (as you will see) my phone takes dreadful night photos. I can’t really do justice to Christmas decorations and lights and fireworks with the technology at hand.

Roermond has Christmas trees in Stationplein and Marktplein, and sets up an adorable little Christmas market in Munsterplein, with little food stalls and tiny rides and an ice-skating rink, and Christmas music in the air.

It’s very cute and also (as you can see) fairly lightly populated; every time I visited, there were people, but not tons of them.

For contrast, in mid-December, I visited friends in Gent. It had been a whopping three years since I was there, and Gent has completely charming Christmas markets and takes them seriously. For some reason I can’t find the photos I took in Gent and Brussels during Christmas 2014, but trust me it’s a charming place during the holidays. In the intervening years, though, Christmas in Gent has become a destination, and it was teeming with people.

It was beautiful, but unpleasantly crowded. These less-crowded photos were taken very early in the day.

They have an adorable ice-skating rink set up in the big square, with these super-cute penguins to help kids stay upright.

Nancy and I went on this Christmas-tree themed ride, where you sit in the ornaments and spin around

And we had an incredible Thanksgiv-mas dinner and caught up and had a lovely time.

The journey itself was interesting. I had forgotten how nice and clean Dutch trains are in contrast to Belgian ones, spent an unexpected layover in Maastricht’s gorgeous train station, and traveled upwards past the fascinating (from the train window, anyway) Belgian cities of Vise and Liege. Now I really want to go there and see them closeup.

Back in Roermond, the holidays themselves were very quiet. I mean, it’s always quiet here, but Christmas Eve and Christmas Night were exceptionally quiet. I stood outside a window and listened to a woman singing Ave Maria in a beautiful, crystal-clear voice that stopped me and some other passers-by, just standing on the sidewalk and listening.

All of the shops and most of the cafes were closed. The ones that were open were lit with gorgeous amber light and absolutely packed with happy friendly people.

The presence of small, quiet groups of people out for walks indicated that there is a demand for Christmas activities (the market itself closed at 5, but ice-skating stayed open later), but it seems to be matched by a deep reluctance on the part of employers and government to make people work the holidays. I can’t say I blame them.

Of course it was all absolutely beautiful. I could wish for something a little more festive and lively, but then I don’t want to see it become unpleasantly loud and crowded, like Gent has become.

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