On Dec. 15, Gouda’s city center will turn off its electric lights to celebrate Gouda by Candlelight.

On Dec. 15, Gouda’s city center will turn off its electric lights to celebrate Gouda by Candlelight. (Gouda tourist board)

Miserable weather and all-too-early descending darkness might be good arguments for staying home throughout much of December, but not all Europe slumbers at this time. Shake off those winter doldrums with an outing promising the soul-warming effect of candlelight, the mysticism of saintly worship or the remembrance of heroic deeds.

Milan, Italy: Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Christmas market

Through Dec. 10, Milan’s residents will be feting their patron saint Ambrogio, a theologian and statesman who served as Bishop of Milan from 374 to 397, in much the way they’ve been doing it over the past centuries. Festivities center around the Castello Sforzesco and surrounding area, the heart of which is the Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Christmas market. Here, shoppers will find the usual bric a-brac and sweet treats along with a vast range of gourmet products. Typical purchases here include long strings of smoked chestnuts or sweet breads including Panettone, and the drink of choice is vin brûlé, mulled wine.

Those after more upscale and unusual handicrafts will want to make their way to the indoor event venue Fiera Milano Rho, where the annual Artigiano in Fiera runs through Dec. 10. Here, artisans from around the world present their products and tell their backstories, bringing their own cultures and traditions to the fore. Dance and music shows, culinary treats and the promotion of destinations and touristic offerings make the fair a global meeting place with local flair. Opening hours are 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m., and entry is free. Online:

Sweden and Italy: The glorification of Santa Lucia

Santa Lucia, sometimes translated as Saint Lucy, was an early Christian martyr born in Syracuse on the island of Sicily. She was put to death in the town of her birth in 304 after a rejected suitor accused her of being a Christian. Medieval legend holds that prior to her execution, her eyes were gouged out and her throat cut with a sword, making her a seemly patron saint for the blind and those suffering from throat infections, among others.

Today, Santa Lucia is still celebrated with particular fervor throughout Scandinavia as well as in Syracuse, her place of birth. On Dec. 13 of each year, churches throughout Sweden select a young girl to represent the saint. Dressed in a long white gown and wearing a crown of lit candles on her head, her appearance is perfectly timed to bring light and hope to the darkest days of the year.

In the Sicilian city of Siracusa, the Feast of Saint Lucy stretches across several days. One of the event’s key moments comes on Jan. 13, when a grand procession in which a gem-embellished silver statue of the saint is paraded through the city streets upon the shoulders of 60 men. On Dec. 20, following a grand burst of fireworks, the relics of the saint are returned to the cathedral for safekeeping. Online:

Gouda, Netherlands: A city bathed in candlelight

Gouda by Candlelight is an annual, single-day event in which a charming city center forgoes its dependence on electricity and instead relies on the light of thousands of candles to light the way. On Dec. 15, the windows of the Town Hall and dozens of other stately properties will be illuminated solely by the light of these flickering flames. The entire town gets into the holiday spirit with concerts, shows, street artists and late-night museum and gallery openings. Between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., the lights of the city’s Christmas tree, a gift from Gouda’s sister city of Kongsberg in Norway, will be switched on. Online:

Bastogne, Belgium: Remember the Battle of the Bulge

Despite the ever-dwindling number of those who witnessed firsthand the events preceding the end of World War II, Bastogne remembers. The 79th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge will be commemorated on the weekend of Dec. 15-17 in keeping with long-established traditions.

Much of the weekend’s jam-packed program unfolds in the vicinity of The Bastogne War Museum, where points on the agenda include meetings with war veterans and a survivor of the Ravensbrück concentration camp. A large military encampment set up outside allows visitors to see how soldiers and civilians alike would have spent their days during the times of war. This year’s program highlights include a book signing by U.S. WWII veterans, three of whom have never returned to Europe since the end of the war, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 16, and a military parade at 3 p.m. Dec. 17. The annual throwing of the nuts from the balcony of the Town Hall takes place at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 16. Online:

Innsbruck, Austria: Christkind Parade

Healthy doses of holiday spirit will be doled out on Dec. 17, as the Christmas figure known as the Christkind is whisked along the Maria-Theresien-Street in her splendidly appointed carriage. Some 500 local children get into act, along with marching bands, shepherds, angels, sheep and other assorted holiday characters. Festivities culminate with the Christkind’s arrival at the square in front of the Tirol Provincial Theater, where a rendition of “Silent Night” will ring out. The parade sets forth at 5 p.m. Entry is free. Online:

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