Valkenburg is perhaps the most unique, and possibly the most interesting, Christmas Market in Europe. I have been back to this market in The Netherlands three times now. The first two times with our friends Dave and Carol Lam. (The last visit was 2007, to see my post from then click here.) We were here this year because we were in Brussels for Carol’s funeral. We went with members of the family as a way of recalling Carol and the adventures we shared with her.
The Market is set in a series of caves and tunnels under the ruins of the Valkenburg castle. Each year the market takes a slightly different route. The tunnels were used to shelter different types of people during different wars. Many of them have left portraits and carvings on the walls depicting the history of the region. Catholics practiced mass here during the French Revolution when anti-clerical sentiment made practice of religion difficult. There are chapels in the tunnels for celebrating mass, baptisms and weddings from the late 1700s and folks still get married in them today. The tunnels sheltered civilians during the Second World War and they have left their artwork. US Soldiers used the castle as an observation point and also sheltered in the tunnels, leaving their “Kilroy Was Here” graffiti. One artist did silhouettes of the soldiers on the walls and soldiers often signed them on return visits to the caves. Now those pieces of art are protected by a mesh. Prominent persons from Valkenburg from throughout history have their likenesses on the walls.
Since the last time I was in Valkenburg the development of LED lighting has made the displays more fantastic. Tucked into alcoves and side tunnels, merchants display their wares. The goods here are more high end and arty than in some other markets. There are more imports from around the world and somewhat fewer pieces by local craftsmen and women. Two displays were ecumenical with statuettes of Christ, the Buddha, Santa Claus and different Hindu icons lined up on a shelf. This seemed, at the same time, strange and somewhat appropriate for a Christmas Market.
Each year the market has a narrative story that you can follow with dioramas set into some of the natural or carved out alcoves. In 2007 it had Santa tied up, held hostage and finally rescued. That one was just too weird. This year Santa gets letters from kids and sets out to acquire gold to be able to buy the presents for the world’s children (presumably at the Valkenburg Christmas Market, no Santa’s workshop in this display in Valkenburg.) This market is great for Northern Europe because it runs through caves, out of the wind and rain common in November and December. It’s the one I look forward to going back to, but there is less at this market that I am interested in buying than at some of the more traditional markets.