This is from a letter I wrote in 2007. We stopped in Belgium and the Netherlands on the way home from Kosovo to visit our friends Dave and Carol Lam, who took us to Christmas Markets in Belgium and the Netherlands. I also have a post from the same market from 2014 which you can see by clicking here.
Valkenburg is a spa town near where The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet and the market is in a series of caves and tunnels under the ruins of the castle. The caves were escape routes from the castle when it was under siege and throughout the centuries have provided sanctuary for any number of people. The walls have carvings and paintings from different eras. Most are intricate, painted and carved years ago by torch or candle light. Some depict the history of the castle and those who defended it. In one part of the cave is a chapel carved into a “room” that was used to hold secret mass when the Church was persecuted around the time of the French Revolution in 1795. (Valkenburg was subject to the French then). During the Second World War the caves sheltered civilians during bombing. The caves have graffiti from several historical periods. Some of the most interesting to me was carved or drawn by US soldiers who also used the caves during World War II. There are images of Kilroy (was here) and Sad Sack. Just after the war someone drew silhouettes of some of the GIs who were in the caves. When some of the GIs returned after the war they signed them.
So imagine all of this art and graffiti decked out with holiday greens, lights and images of elves, trolls and Santa Claus (who has been “kidnapped” for some reason) as a backdrop to crafts tables as you walk through the caves. The crafts here are classy. And in this cave market you aren’t bothered by the winter rains and wind that are a feature of the Low Countries in December.
In Valkenburg we saw the St. Nicholas Eve parade. The town was full for the parade because a steam excursion train brought visitors from nearby Germany. The parade had several floats and between them were troupes of young people doing elaborate dance routines all choreographed to the same song that was looped, repeated and piped into speakers along the parade route. The song was about Christmas, dancing in the streets, children and Santa, sung in English. But the strange thing about this parade was the audience. While the song was about children, sung by children, and danced by children, the audience was almost all either middle aged or elderly. They enjoyed it, as did I. Am I still middle aged?