Hasselt “Winterland” Market is, perhaps the most commercial Christmas market we have encountered in Europe. It reminds me of the tables under the grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair. There was a collection of kitchen wares, knives, trinkets, I half expected to see a Vegimatic and a Pocket Fisherman. Some of this “State Fair” feeling is accentuated by the tent like pavilions with tables on each side, although the decorations are more festive. The State Fair feeling is enhanced by a midway with carnival rides. While the Wild Mouse is pretty much the same any place and at any time of the year there were several Christmas themed attractions, like a sleigh ride that runs on tracks like those used by amusement park trains. But instead of cars there were sleighs and the engine was fashioned to look like reindeer. Then there was the “Christmas Thriller” a haunted house with witches and The Grinch. “Christmas Hotel” was similar, but more like a fun house than a horror house. I wonder if these were built specifically for a six week run up to Christmas or if they can be repurposed for summer use. It seems a little strange that there would be a Christmas shooting gallery here, but there was: for archers. In the middle of the “midway” was a huge snow globe. Fairgoers go inside the globe and a fan blows around fake snow while Santa takes your picture. The strangest display, in this highly competitive field, was a diorama featuring two life sized Roman soldiers with a cannon.
While I didn’t see much I wanted to buy in the way of gifts at this fair I enjoyed some Glughwein in a souvenir mug shaped like a boot, a Belgian waffle and some really good buckwheat cakes made by a jolly talkative lady from across the border in the Netherlands. A Belgian chocolatier sold candies fashioned in the shape of tools, wrenches, bolts, hammers, gears, sawblades, a plane, padlocks and paint brushes. I also liked the florist who is able to print messages on fragile rose petals.
For folks with families, Belgium’s Hasselt Winterland is a great attraction, more a carnival than a market, with stuff to buy, rides to ride, food to eat and lots to see. For someone looking for a traditional Christmas Market, there are other choices.