Christmas in Brussels - ©www.milo-profi.be
Emma Thomson

Emma Thomson

  • Job: Freelance travel writer and author of Flanders: The Bradt Travel Guide
  • Favorite destination: Belgium
  • Likes:Travel writer, editor, broadcaster, photographer
Christmas is coming! Emma explores Flanders' famous Christmas markets.

November

I am unashamedly a huge fan of Christmas – a ‘xmasophile’, if you will. And nothing gets the festive mood kick started quicker than a visit to Flanders’ cozy Christmas markets – even the dourest of Scrooges can’t fail to raise a smile amid the feast of food and twinkly lights. I take family and friends every year.
I am unashamedly a huge fan of Christmas – a ‘xmasophile’, if you will. And nothing gets the festive mood kick started quicker than a visit to Flanders’ cozy Christmas markets – even the dourest of Scrooges can’t fail to raise a smile amid the feast of food and twinkly lights. I take family and friends every year.
To paraphrase the writer Henry James “All human life is here”: families flock along the cobblestones toward the wooden chalets bedecked in LED icicles and cotton wool ‘snow’; teenagers hold hands and canoodle on the big wheel; and dads hold their young ones tight as they take their first tentative, slippy steps on the open-air skating rink.
The frosty air pinches my nose and I wrap my scarf tighter around my face as we approach our first stall; lured by the wafts of warm, spicy air. I peer through the steam and see the vendor is selling cups of escargot (snail) soup. I hold up my index finger and hand over €2, taking the hot cup gingerly. I plunge the miniature plastic fork into the broth, spear a snail and pop it into my mouth. It’s chewy like a rubber band, but the briny broth is delicious and I take big sips.
We rejoin the humming crowd, moving past a magician who stands behind his stall pulling cards out of hats and ‘Ooos’ of wonder from the children gathered around.
I spy more steam ahead and wiggle my way through the cluster of customers. Two enormous pans filled with potatoes, cubes of bacon and bubbling cheese stand before me – the artery clogging, but oh-so-good tartiflette. I order a glass of chilled red wine to go with it; ‘to cut through the fat’, I assure myself!
By now, I’m starting to feel full but a trip to the markets wouldn’t be complete without a cornet of oliebollen. ‘Tien, alstublieft’ I say to the vendor. She takes an ice-cream scoop and plops ten balls of fresh dough into the boiling oil, waits a few minutes and then scoops them into a paper cone and douses them with icing sugar. My boyfriend and I stick our forks into one eagerly, cursorily blow on it a few times and bite into it with glee. ‘Ooo, argh, hot!’ we both yelp.
Top lips covered in sugar, we walk on. Stopping off at chalets selling hand-knitted gloves and hats, wooden toys and jewelry, and I pause longingly in front of the artisanal loaves and huge rounds of cheese that emit a delightful pong.
The temperature creeps lower and we come to the sensible conclusion it’s time for a little tummy warmer. Up ahead, we find a glühwein and a jenever stall conveniently standing side by side. I buy a plastic cup of the spicy wine and my boyfriend a shot of the chocolate-flavoured gin. A gaggle of tipsy fathers, propped up at the impromptu bar tables set up in front of the stall, give a cheer as we join them. And that’s why I love Flanders’ Christmas markets: no matter how large the crowd, there’s still a sense of community spirit and it’s made all the merrier by scrumptious food and drink. Vrolijk Kerstfeest iedereen!

Info

The first Christmas market in Flanders starts on 22 November (Bruges). Christmas markets are held all over Flanders. Coming soon on our website: an overview of the Christmas markets and their opening times per city.
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