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Soak in the spiritA quick look at some of the best festivals, markets and attractions in Europe
So the festive season is coming, and you fancy celebrating Christmas abroad. But where are the best Yuletide festivities? NICHOLAS YONG susses out some of the best festivals, markets and attractions in five European countries.
THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY
A tradition dating back to the 19th century, Sinterklass is the Low Countries' version of Santa Claus. Every November, he arrives from Spain on a steamboat filled with gifts and his helpers in a selected Dutch city, in a parade broadcast live on television. Almost every Dutch city and town has its own Sinterklaas parade.
He then rides throughout the country on his white horse Americo, giving out traditional sweets such as gingerbread men and spiced biscuits to young children. On the night of Dec 5, children sing songs to Sinterklaas in hopes that he will come a-knocking with gifts. Many Dutch people all over the Netherlands also dress up as Sinterklaas for the day.
When: Till Dec 5
Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival
The 10-year-old festival showcases a series of snow and ice sculptures created by a team of international artists, using 300,000 kg of ice. The artworks are housed in a special tent that preserves them at a constant temperature of minus 5 deg C. This year's theme: Disneyland Paris.
Where: Railway Station Square, 8000 Bruges
When: Till Jan 15, including Christmas and New Year's Day
Admission: €13 (S$22.90) for adults, €9 for children aged four to 12
Info: Go to www.ijssculptuur.be
At a quarter century old, the village claims to be the biggest and best Christmas market in Belgium. It draws an estimated 1.5 million visitors each year. Highlights include 200 colourfully painted and illuminated timber chalets, a sledge run and a Ferris wheel.
Where: Place St Lambert and Place du Marche
When: Till Dec 30
Housed in Hergersberg, 85km from Liege, this is the world's largest exhibition of Christmas cribs. About 500 cribs loaned from modern and traditional churches are on display. The exhibition is renewed yearly.
Where: Hergersberg 4, 4760 Manderfeld (Buellingen)
When: All year round except Monday
Admission: €6.50 for adults, €4 for children aged six to 12
Info: Go to www.arskrippana.net/pages/en/home.php
Seurasaari Christmas Path
A free pre-Christmas event for families with children in the Helsinki region that started 15 years ago. Activities along the path range from a straw maze to sleigh rides, with elves hiding along the path waiting to be discovered. Children are also given treats such as gingerbread cookies and cinnamon buns.
Where: Seurasaari island
When: Dec 11, 1 to 5pm
Santa Claus Village
Partly located in the Arctic Circle, attractions at this amusement park include a post office from which any mail sent has a special Santa Claus postmark, Santa Claus' Office where visitors can take photos and chat with Santa, and husky sled rides. There is also an exhibition of Christmas traditions.
Where: 30-minute bus ride from the city of Rovaniemi
When: Open all year round
Admission: Free. For Christmas exhibition, adults pay €5 (S$8.80) and children aged four to 12 pay €3
This southern Finnish town is known for its Christmas markets selling home-made delicacies and traditional handicrafts. Products on sale include vintage cards, antique porcelain and flavoured truffles.
Where: Venues include Town Hall Square and the Volunteer Fire Department Headquarters
When: Till Dec 23
Christmas markets in the Austrian capital date back to the 13th century. One of the largest is held at the Rathauspark, where 150 stalls sell wooden toys, gingerbread hearts, roasted chestnuts and more.
Where: Venues include the centrally located Maria-Theresien Platz between the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art (www.weihnachtsdorf.at ) and Rathauspark on the square in front of City Hall (www.christkindlmarkt.at).
When: Till Dec 24
Christkindl Pilgrimage Church
In 1695, Ferdinand Sertl, a local musician, became seriously ill with epilepsy. In desperation, he placed a small wax figure of the Christ Child in the hollow of a fir tree and prayed there several times a week. After he was miraculously cured, the spot attracted so many pilgrims that a church was built there. The 10cm-high miracle-working wax figure, holding a cross and wearing a crown of thorns, is now housed in a reliquary on the high altar. Pilgrims have journeyed there for more than 300 years.
Where: Christkindlweg 6, 4400 Steyr, Austria
When: All year round, except Sundays and public holidays
Admission: Free. Donations welcome
Info: www.steyr.info/en/culture/ christkindl-pilgrimage/christkindl-pilgrimage-place/christkindl-pilgrimage-church.html
THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY
St Lucia Day
Observed on Dec 13, this is the first day of the Christmas celebrations in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Mostly observed in kindergartens and schools, it is also included in the Advent liturgy in the Church of Norway, where visitors can watch processions. These are traditionally led by a young girl dressed as StLucia, a fourth-century Christian martyr, in a white robe with a crown of lights and a candle in her hand, while other girls hand out saffron buns.
Pepperkakebyen (Gingerbread Town)
A tradition dating back to 1991. Check out the miniature houses, trains, cars and ships, all made from real gingerbread, on display in a public square. There is even a miniature version of Bergen made of gingerbread cookies, contributed by students.
Where: Torgallmenningen Square, 5014 Bergen
When: Till Dec 31
Admission: 70 krone (S$15.70) for adults, 50 krone for those aged 12 to 18
Tregaarden's Christmas House
First opened in 1877, this is Scandinavia's only permanent Christmas shop. Besides a wide selection of Christmas-themed products, there is a permanent exhibition of more than 250,000 cards and letters to Julenissen, Norway's Santa Claus. It even has its own post office where you can stamp letters or cards with its official Christmas stamp mark.
Where: Havnebakken 6, 1440 Drobak
When: Open daily, except Sundays