NEW YORK -- It is a common misunderstanding that Europe closes down
for the holiday season, barricading its cities against tourists as
the locals enjoy private celebrations.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Although Christmas day is dedicated to family fetes, the
preceding and following weeks are given over to parading Santa
Clauses, craft and cookie markets and yuletide beauty contests.
The following rundown captures only a few of the holiday
One of the country's oldest Christmas markets, the Vienna
Christkindl, boasts about 140 stands with everything from art and
toys to tree ornaments and homemade biscuits.
The market is open from Nov. 18 to Dec. 23, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
daily, and on Christmas Eve until 5 p.m.
The life of St. Nicholas is celebrated in Austria on Dec. 5, and
parades are held in Laxenburg, Laa an der Thaya, Wolkersdorf and
According to legend, St. Nicholas rides over the rooftops of
Belgian homes on the night of Dec. 5; he rides on a donkey, along
with his helper, Black Peter.
Belgium's largest Christmas market, Dec. 8 to 17, is held on the
Grand Place in Brussels.
In Bruges, the Hobby Garden Christmas Happening boasts Christmas
decorations and children's entertainment.
The happening will be held during the weekends of Nov. 24 to 28
and Dec. 1 to 3.
The market in Liege is open daily from Dec. 2 to 31 and features
Belgium's finest Christmas village, a nativity with 120 tiny,
In Copenhagen, the Great Christmas Parade on Nov. 25 has Father
Christmas marching through the city accompanied by children, jazz
musicians, angels, and figures from fairy tales.
The Tivoli Christmas Fair will run Nov. 17 to Dec. 23.
Thousands of twinkling lights will add their magic to the
gardens, along with a large Christmas market.
Several restaurants will feature traditional Danish Christmas
menus, along with glogg, a hot-mulled wine. There also will be ice
skating on the Tivoli lake.
The fair Lucia Maiden -- a teenage beauty queen -- is chosen in
Helsinki on Dec. 13, and the subsequent Lucia Parade proceeds from
the city's Lutheran Cathedral to Finlandia Hall, where the maiden
is crowned with candles.
A Christmas Market in the Esplanade follows from Dec. 14 to 17;
here shoppers can find gifts such as handmade ornaments, Finnish
crystal and porcelain from designers Iittala and Arabia and
seasonal baked goods such as gingerbread cookies and houses and
The market draws to a weekend close with a Christmas festival at
the Children's Museum, where families can hitch horse-drawn sleigh
The Christmas spirit comes to Provence in November with the opening
of the santon fairs. Santons, sold at various markets, are clay
figurines dressed in hand-stitched clothes.
The largest fairs are held in Arles; Marseilles and Aubagne, the
santon capital of Provence.
On Christmas Eve in Provence, midnight mass often includes a
procession cart decorated with candles and ribbons carrying live
The most famous of these pageants is held in Les Baux.
The province of Alsace hosts France's colorful
Christkindelsmariks (Christmas markets). Among the best are the
markets in Strasbourg and Kayserberg.
Town squares are filled with stalls selling custom-made
ornaments and santons, as well as embroidery and stoneware.
Foie gras is always a good buy along with seasonal specialties
such as gingerbread, spice cookies and bredele (small Christmas
In the contest of best decorative lighting, few towns do it
better than Montebeliard in the province of Franche-Comte. In the
old town, streets are hung with thousands of lights fashioned into
stars, angels and bells.
Christmas markets are this country's specialty, with the most
famous held in Nuremberg and Munich from Dec. 1 to Dec. 23. Market
confections include zwetschgenmannle, or little prune people.
The Munich market is filled with the aroma of baked goods,
bratwurst, gingerbread and roasted chestnuts.
Hand-carved creches -- representations of the nativity -- is
another market specialty.
The Rothenburg market features concerts, torchlight parades and
During November, Dutch children eagerly await Sinterklaas' arrival
by steamboat from Spain -- not the North Pole -- on the third
weekend of the month.
In Amsterdam, St. Nicholas will ride on his white horse through
the city center on Nov. 19.
Festivities in Gouda on Dec. 15 revolve around the lighting of a
monumental Christmas tree, a carillon concert and performances in
St. Jan's Church.
From Dec. 13 to 31, visitors to Lillehammer can take their family
members to meet Santa's helpers; have Christmas cards stamped
Santa Claus' postmark sent from the post office, and shop at a
Christmas fair downtown.
On Dec. 24, a scheduled sleigh ride through the forest is
followed by a meal of Christmas porridge and caroling.
A great place to be in December is Madeira, where Christmas fairs
turn the island into a shopper's paradise.
The culmination of Madeira's tribute to the holiday season takes
place on New Year's Eve, when a fireworks show lights up Funchal
Bay during St. Sylvester's Festival.
Three weekends beginning in late November are devoted to the
Skansen Christmas Fair, where handicrafts and holiday foods such as
smoked sausages, reindeer meat and gingerbread biscuits are sold in
the open-air museum.
On Santa Lucia Day, Dec. 13, Swedish girls wearing crowns of
candles to celebrate the end of the year's darkest days march in a
colorful parade through Stockholm.
In the village of Kussnacht, Klausjagen (the pursuit of St.
Nicholas), is celebrated on Dec. 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day. At
night, more than 100 transparent bishop's miters are illuminated by
candles and worn by those who accompany St. Nicholas through the
The story of St. Nicholas is based on the legend of a man born in
the third century in the costal town of Patara; he moved to nearby
Demre, known in ancient times as Myra, where he became the first
bishop of Myra. Dec. 6, the date of St. Nicholas' death, kicks off
the three-day St. Nicholas Festival in Demre, with ceremonies in
the Church of St. Nicholas and folk dancing.