Kaarsjesavond, or “Christmas Fair on Steroids”

Many candles

Don’t ask me to pronounce it; I’ve tried a bunch of times and mostly failed. I’ve been staying with my friend Gerwin, who you may remember from my early days on the Camino de Santiago in Nieuwegein, a commuter town to the south of Utrecht. Gerwin and his family have been extremely welcoming to me, and although I’ve made a faux pas or two since coming here (like using a terrible Dutch swear word Gerwin taught me on the Camino in front of his friend’s wife) being the lone foreigner in town has been a nice change from tourist-saturated Amsterdam.

Last night we walked into town to experience the once-annual Kaarsjesavond, supposedly the biggest thing that happens in Nieuwegein every year. I count myself lucky to have been around because it really was like a Christmas fair on steroids. In case you’re wondering, Kaarsjesavond actually means “evening of candles,” but I think my definition is more than suitable.

Lightshow on the canal

Like pretty much every Dutch town, Nieuwegein has a canal running through it, and on either side of the banks tens of thousands of candles were placed in small glass jars. It was beautiful to see, so long as you weren’t too tanked up on glühwein and either fell into the canal—there was a small boat in the water just to make sure they could pull people out—or tripped over the jars and broke them. As the night wore on, I didn’t see anyone fall in, but I was guilty of accidentally snuffing out a candle and so were many other merrymakers.

Speaking of merrymakers, Kaarsjesvond is about more than just looking at pretty lights. Every block or so was a crowd of carolers singing traditional Christmas songs—sometimes in English, sometimes in Dutch—and I lost track of the number of marching bands with people dressed in red Santa suits. In fact, the whole affair was a bit Seussian.

Alex Hiding Behind a Stroopwaffel

There were horse-drawn carriages and ceramic artisans
Mechanical pipe organs and a stroopwafel man.

Children were playing and grown men were singing
Fireworks were bursting and bells were dinging.

Fried delicacies were sold and so were cheap toys
To the ire of parents and delight of small boys.

The wind was blowing and the air was quite icy
But we were warm from glühwein and did quite nicely.

After a few hours it was getting a bit late
And it was noted the kids had school the next day.

So we turned back toward home and climbed into our beds
Food filled our bellies and sweet dreams graced our heads.

Pretty colors

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