Ghent Winter Festivities 2014: look for the surprises!
Ghent Winter Festivities 2014: look for the surprises!17 dec 2014
Everything you expect...
There are Christmas market stalls with wooden trim. There are bratwursts sizzling on grills, perfuming the area around the city pavilion. There are children holding their parents' hands, patiently (or not-so-patiently) waiting in line to skate around and around the ice rink. There are buckwheat pancakes and honey from the south of France. There is a huge Ferris wheel. There are tourists and locals bustling around the food and drink stands, into and out of shops. In the evenings, there are strings of white lights making the narrow streets bright and the mood cosy.
There are, of course, garlands of evergreen boughs. There are red ribbons. There is a man selling cheese that smells incredible, even from a few meters away. There is everything you might expect.
But there are also the small, unexpected things - look for these, if you visit the Ghent Winter Festivities. Look for a nest of sycamore leaves in the park as you walk into the city, outlined perfectly with late-morning frost. Look for the ‘mémé’ with her cane slipping a bill into the cup of a kneeling beggar. Look for the Santas - with banjo, saxophone, and tuba - playing big-band style carols as they trundle through the city. Look for the moment the lights come on above the tourists and the folks who live here, how a few of them will, despite seasonal cynicism and despite the rush of people, pause in their shopping, look up, and breathe out a cloud of white air against a darkening sky.
You could get a t-shirt with funny phrases in Flemish (or in the particular English that is spoken here). You could bring your auntie a ceramic candle holder with a fine string to hang it from the ceiling. You could taste the many kinds of tapenade at one stall, walk away, then double back to buy a jar for someone's stocking. Of course you could buy a cup of cocoa or glühwein and walk through the rows of wooden stalls, warming your hands. You could savor the crunchy outsides of a rots (a large coconut macaroon), and breathe in the cold, sharp air. You could open your umbrella and notice how the rain blears the streetlamps.
But don't forget to look for the girls holding hands, the young men smiling as if by accident - so spontaneously - the older couple standing to watch the skaters. Don't forget to look for the first stars coming out above the city, in its winter sky.