Maastricht is famous for its citywide Christmas bash. The city goes all-out for the season, and the open squares are full of stalls selling delicious foods and . In the Vrijthof, there is typically a Ferris wheel and a skating rink; sales abound in every store; food and drink flow freely, while cars do not.
Sales abound in every store in the rest of the Netherlands, as well, but the country as a whole must content itself with the little neighborhood Christmas market--de kerstmarkt, as it is callled. The one by our apartment is quite nice--they make little "streets" in the little plaza with the kramen, and there's a stage with singers providing entertainment while people mill around and buy little gewgaws (not all of them Christmas-themed) from the vendors. Some of the vendors are associated with a charity, so your money will go towards a good cause, in case it makes you feel bad to buy stuff for such a consumerist holiday. The C1000 sells hot dogs and hamburges, and kids get free popcorn (our kidlet did not partake--it's a choking hazard at his age, and anyway he'd probably have been more interested in dropping them and watching them bounce). This year, they had a mini-version of swings and a "dragon ride" as well. It all ends with a raffle, and then it's over.
But this Christmas thingy really only kicked off about 3 years ago, maybe 4. Prior to that, Christmas was, well, Christmas--you went to church, if you were so inclined. You stayed home, slept late, had a nice breakfast, prepared to receive visitors for dinner. For the second day of Christmas (yes, Christmas is two days, here), you went visiting friends. There might be presents exchanged; there might not be--some people do, some people don't. If you do, it's great--if you don't, nobody worries that you didn't like them or gossips about you being a stingy bastard (do bring your host a bottle of wine or something similar, though). As long as the booze is flowing freely and the food is tasty, presents are an afterthought. Most of what Americans take for granted about Christmas--photos with Santa at the mall, caroling--just doesn't exist here. Lately I've been seeing more Santa Claus (de kerstman, as he's called), but so far he's never had the requisite 8 reindeer, and in most cases he's not even fat. I don't know if it's out of laziness or vanity, but at least the children won't be getting mixed messages about obesity...
But consumerism is like a virus, and this year was the first time that koopzondagen--the Sundays where stores are allowed to be open, which is typically once a month--got extended to every Sunday of the month. The Albert Heijn XL is open every Sunday. The Schoenen Reus has been open every Sunday this month, as well. And strangely--even though I like taking the kidlet out to see the sights--it makes me a little sad. It's strange, but not having the option to go to stores and having the sole kidlet-entertainment be the local kinderboerderij (petting zoo) was actually quite relaxing, simply because I didn't have a choice to make. Now that the stores are open on Sunday, I find myself thinking, "Well, we can go to the kinderboerderij and then stop by..." And I end up spending more of my day out and about and unable to relax. Not that I relax much with a kidlet, these days.
This year, I am once again making most of the presents that I'll be giving away. Part of this is that yes, I am a cheap and stingy wench. Part of this is that it's hard to get out of the apartment with the kidlet for the lengths of time needed to go shopping. Part of this is that I have most of the materials already. But most of it is that I'm just not in the mood to buy more stuff--that the option of koopzondagen have removed the urgency to buy.