Delft & Gouda light festival: December in Holland

The Delft & Gouda light festival are two charming December events in Holland. They take place in the historical city centre and put their own unique local culture in the spotlight.

Gouda activities group Verita's Visit groepsactiviteiten winter

The night is dark. Darker than usual. All lights in the city have been dimmed. The Dutch usually stay inside in the cold December months, but tonight everyone is out on the street. Do like the locals, follow your nose. The scent of glühwein, hot chocolate and oliebollen - Dutch doughnuts-  fills the air. It leads you straight to the main square where a choir is singing and a huge Christmas tree is waiting to be lit.

When is the December Delft & Gouda light festival?

Lichtjesavond, Dutch for Evening of Lights, is the Delft December light festival. It takes place on Tuesday 10 December 2019 and celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.  The Gouda light festival is 3 days later, on Friday 13 December. It’s called Kaarsjesavond, Dutch for Candle Night. 

Are Delft Evening of Lights and Gouda Candle Night the same?

 These two December events in the province South Holland are very much alike.

  • The Christmas tree lighting ceremony starts at 7 PM on the main square and is the main attraction of the Delft & Gouda light festival.
  • All churches in the historical city centre open their doors to the public and have special activities.
  • There are stands selling artisanal products and very typical Dutch food and drinks.  Besides the Dutch doughnuts- oliebollen- , the pea soup – erwtensoep- is also very popular
  • Choirs pop up on every corner. Dressed in Dickens’ costumes or santa’s costume the choirs from the region bring the top Christmas pop and classic songs.
  • There are different routes through the city centre to enjoy the light festival.

Which December event in South Holland to visit

Should you visit both when these two Dutch December festivals are so similar? Yes, do add it to your list of Holland light festival visits! There are some details which make Lichtjesavond in Delft differ in feel and looks from Kaarsjesavond in Gouda

The main differences of the Delft & Gouda light festival are:

  • the routes
  • the locations of the markets
  • how the cities use their traditions.

Choose a light route

For the first time in the history of the Delft Evening of Lights festival you can choose between a couple of routes. They lead from the market square to the different festive hubs and pass various historical streets full of music, food and local products.

Tip: take the route along the oldest street of Delft, the Oude Delft. The canal is very picturesque: all buildings are lit by colored flood lights and light guirlandes hang over the water. Do stop by the Maria Jessekerk, a small, cosy church.

The Gouda Candle Night has used routes before. Gouda works with themed routes, which is great! You can choose to go arty or historical. 

Go christmas market hopping

Gouda’s December event offers a lot more activities inside monumental buildings and churches. Unlike Delft, the festive markets are mostly inside. 

Tip:  visit the St Jan church for free, gaze at the huge stained glass windows and stroll through the covered market where locals sell their artisanal products.

Uitjes winter Verita's Visit family corporate events Gouda

Dutch traditions in the spotlight

Delft 2019 was a celebration of the Golden Age, Delft Blue & Vermeer. This theme will also come up in the Lichtjesavond on the 2nd Tuesday of December. Check the website for all activities, performances and routes.

The Christmas tree on the main square of Gouda is a gift. The city’s Norwegian sister town sends a tree to Gouda every year and has done so the last 60 years.

The lights in the tree itself are not real candles anymore. Gouda, city of candles does like to keep the tradition of lighting candles on this special evening - hence the name Candle Night-. Just before the lighting of the tree, the city’s electric lights are turned off. In Gouda’s City Hall and in some of the houses on the market square, real candles are lit. 

A last tip: For me, the lighting of the tree is not the highlight. I love the atmosphere, the activities. Like any other festival, these two Dutch December events are great opportunities to get #socialwithalocal. Do ask, do sing along, do join the celebration. The Delft & Gouda light festival program already start at 4 PM. Around 6 PM the atmosphere in both cities is best. If you do decide to join the lighting ceremony on the market square, make sure you’re there at 6:30 PM or earlier.

For more info on the light festivals'program:

Delft Lichtjesavond

Gouda Kaarsjesavond

 


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The city has become my second home. In the last months I’ve been here every week to dive into Dutch culture and diversity. I’ve found fun activities to add to the Gouda challenge corporate event. Today it’s time to make the final arrangements before the grand finale Mid-June.

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Cheese boys, cart & market Gouda

Follow the Gouda cheese carts

I can hear the horses’ hooves on the cobblestones. The rhythm is similar to the beating of my heart. “Where is the Gouda cheese market?” A German couple asks me below the cheese guirlands in the shopping street. “The wheels of Gouda cheese are delivered to the market by horse and cart’, I say knowingly. “Follow the carts and you’ll get there”. There’s a tension in my voice. I need to be at the Gouda cheese market and I’m late.

Old Dutch crafts in Gouda

I’ve heard about the Gouda Cheese Awards through one of my new contacts. For the Gouda challenge corporate event I was looking for pretty specific things. Of course, Holland cheese & stroopwafels would be included. I also wanted to add some lesser known Gouda products to the team-building game. An internet search gave me a whole spectrum of options and I got real enthusiastic. Then I dove in deeper and found out that men and women still practicing old Dutch crafts in Gouda are hard to find. Either retired or deceased. With my focus so much on all things Gouda I swiped through my social media and there it was: the post of the Erasmus artwork.

Erasmus & Frau Antje

My new contact Ginetta happened to organise many activities around Erasmus and the Dutch crafts practiced in his days. She gave me loads of new leads. “I live for Gouda”, was her reaction when I thanked her for all the information. “You should come to the Gouda Cheese Awards. Frau Antje, the well known cheese girl, will be there together with a Dutch tv person. “

Copyright Sandra Zeilstra/ AD

Holland Cheese Valley by bike

So I came. Mainly because I wanted to meet my new contact. Things went slightly different. Very lastminute I became the tour guide for a bike ride with bloggers, journalists and travel writers on a presstrip to the Holland Cheese Valley. But that’s a different story altogether.

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I didn’t manage to meet Ginetta. Nor did I get to go to any of the other meetings I had planned today. All the preparations for the Gouda city challenge corporate event have been made though. I’ve got a chance to do the special cheese tasting and oh, it is such an unique experience! Sweet, soft, salty and grainy. I’m so excited for the Gouda team building event! Let the city game begin!

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There’s more to Gouda than cheese and stroopwafels. For the Gouda team event I’m looking for a workshop or activity to include the three other typical Dutch products of this city. And that’s where I’m stuck.

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My footsteps echo in the cobblestone alley between the 16th century St John church and the tilted medieval houses. This transports you to lost times. Lost times it is. Door closed, shutters down. The shop with the large sign saying ‘Gouda kaarsen’ now primarily sells antics. The last clay pipe maker retired. He shows the old Dutch craft once in a while in a former ceramics factory just outside the city. Gouda ceramics….yes, there is one workshop you can still visit. It’s not in the city centre though.


Start of Gouda diversity team event at train station

Gouda team event on Dutch culture

My search for typical Gouda ánd typical Dutch elements in the St John resulted in some great ideas for the customised group outing. Now I'm out in the streets looking for the three other typical Dutch products of Gouda: ceramics, candles and clay pipes.

It all started with the request for a Gouda team event on Dutch culture.  This corporate event is all about having fun and doing activities, instead of just a (self) guided city walk. And, it's a group activity for half a day, three hours more or less. Which, for my ideas, is extremely short. To add the very popular typical Dutch stroopwafels and original Gouda cheese there's going to be a stroopwafel baking session and a cheese tasting.  I'm especially looking forward to the tasting as this is not your mainstream cheese experience. Really curious what the participants think of it!

Artisanal workshops in the heart of Holland

It’s hard to picture Golden Age Gouda being full of workshops. Every second shop had some connection with Dutch crafts. Large factories outside of the city brought the production of Gouda ceramics and candles to another level. The small artisanal shops in Gouda’s historical centre went broke. The clay pipe industry simply went up in smoke with the invention of the cigar and later the cigarette. As the last craftsmen turn grey and there are no successors, the old Dutch crafts simply vanish.

Local Gouda festivals celebrating Dutch heritage

Or, is there still a spark of life? Gouda is proud of its candles, ceramics and clay pipes. On Ascension day a large ceramics festival is held on the market square. It’s not just Gouda craftsmen and -women who show ceramics is still alive and kicking, people from all around the world come show their pottery.

In December Gouda lights it candles in the Gouda by Candlelight event. The city hall lights up real Gouda candles and locals living on the market put their best candles on the windowseal.

And the clay pipes? There is a great Erasmus festival on his birthday in October. It’s a jolly and folly Saturday with all locals proudly showing the Dutch heritage. All Gouda products are put into the spotlight.

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Apart from the cheese and stroopwafels, clay pipes are the only elements of Dutch culture I will work with in the personalised Gouda team event in June. The Thursday market has a stall with ceramics and clay pipes. It looks o so fragile though, so I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to add an activity here. Maybe at the oldest tobacco shop in Gouda, which still has a great display of clay ánd wooden pipes...


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Typical Gouda in stained glass windows

There’s a lady with a white bun. Find her. She knows everything about the Gouda windows. I enter the St John church in search of typical Gouda in stained glass windows.

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It’s Wednesday morning. A few rays of sunlight found their way through the clouds and now shine on the red-white shutters of the Gouda city hall. While I spot a LEGO version of the church, a woman with white trousers and red jacket swirls her small group of tourists through the alley. I follow them to their, no, our destination.  As the group swarms into the St John, I stop at the counter.

Teambuilding typical Gouda in the stained glass windows

I make myself tall as the longest windows in the church (20m)  and say: “I’m organising a team building event on Dutch culture ánd diversity and want to include the stained-glass stories of the St John church. Can you tell me what the most typical Gouda in the stained glass windows is?”

Erasmus in Gouda

“How Gouda is presented, you mean”, the man behind the desk replies, while you see how he’s trying to formulate the perfect answer. The man clearly likes to think along: “John the baptist is the patron saint of the city Gouda. All through the city you see the colors red and white. Red for his suffering and white for purity. You can find the city’s coat of arms – red and white- in several of the Gouda windows. The glasses in the choir tell the story of John the Baptist’s life.”

 

The man puts his thumb and indicative finger on his chin and thinks out loud, nodding towards the most modern glass. “Of course this stained glass window is quite abstract, but it is representing the beliefs of Erasmus. The humanist was born in Gouda, his father was a priest in this church. If you really want to know what is typical Gouda in the Gouda glasses, look for the lady with the white bun. She’s a guide and can tell you all you want to know about the windows.

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Leidens Ontzet - Relief of Leiden depicted in stained glass Gouda church

Gouda Glasses and Leiden team event

Every time I visit the St John, I run to one stained-glass window. That has to do with my passion for the Leidens Ontzet and the team event on Dutch culture I once organised in the city of Leiden.  The creation of this customised teambuilding activity has priority now. I enter the church and I immediately see ms Kraal, the lady with the white bun. She’s passionately explaining the story of one of the Gouda windows to a couple of visitors. The scene is so intimate I fear to intrude and break the serene atmosphere. My excitement to find the answer to my quest is far bigger though and in a stutter I begin my question:

“The man behind the counter told me you know everything about these stained glasses. What is typical Gouda in the stained glass windows?”

The Night Watch of the St John church

Ms Kraal looks over her glasses at me. “There nothing typical Gouda in the stained glass windows”, she replies. “But,” as she goes on after seeing my disappointment. “Many of the Gouda glasses have a connection with the biblical humanism, the teaching  of Erasmus. And Erasmus was an important figure for Gouda and for the Netherlands.” For her, window 15 is the Night watch of the St John church. She places her hand on an imaginary hand: “John the Baptist doesn’t baptise Jesus in the traditional way…”

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I try to listen to her, but find myself to eager to run to the stained glass window and see for myself. I say my thankyous and goodbyes and Ms Kraal gives me one more tip: window 7. This is not your ordinary presentation of the Last Supper. This is a real conversation. The focus is not on the dinner or the characters, but on the lively interaction between the characters. Ow, I’m excited to see for myself!

Humanism in thought bubbles & speech balloons

While the orgue plays a tune I recognise, but can not put a name on, I sit in front of window 15. 10 minutes, half an hour. I listen to the audioguide and see what Ms Kraal explained. John the Baptist doesn’t look at Jesus and baptises him. He looks up and listens to God. His words come down in a ray of light that runs down to the holy ghost. It’s the dove that represents him.

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I’ve fallen in love with window 16 before as that does have a typical Dutch  element: the landscape. The brothers Crabeth, who made this glass and 14 & 15 which together form a tryptich, used the countryside around Gouda for the landscape. Now that I see the full story of these 3 glasses, I know I have found the answer to my quest. I’ve found typical Gouda in the stained glass windows ánd typical Dutch elements. Now I only need to think of a creative assignment to include this in the team building event on Dutch culture and diversity....


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The global organisation you work for has given you carte blanche for a half day team event The Hague. It’s up to you and your team to decide if you want to do an active event or something relaxing. It could be a workshop Delft blue painting or a boat race on the Leiden lakes.

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Due to time differences it’s not easy to get your team members from US, UK, Europe and South Africa together in a meeting to discuss the subject of the trainings in the Dutch headquarter or the content of the company outing on the last day. So, emails go back and forth and you manage to set up a call  with some of the colleagues who have been in the team for a while now.

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These hardcore team-building event participants have quite some suggestions.  One of  them reminds you: “We’ve done a canal cruise in Leiden a few years ago and a cooking workshop in The Hague”. “The activity should definitely something fun. I don’t mind traveling outside of The Hague, see a different city” another colleague writes in a email. After a while yet another colleague adds:

“Indeed! See a bit of the area, would love it if we could incorporate some Dutch culture. Food would be great too.” 

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Food does give an extra dimension to a group activity, you think. After having gathered all suggestions, you have an idea of what kind of half day team event Hague area could look like. After the trainings and workshops you don’t want to have to think too much. So, it should be a fun and relaxing outing. It should not take too long either. Some kind of tour in a historical city not far from The Hague to absorb the Dutch culture and maybe add something food-related.  Could you combine it with a local festival or typical Dutch event that already takes place?


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Cheese makers all around the world can produce and sell Gouda cheese. Only in 2010 the term cheese made in Holland received a protected EU status. Only Gouda cheese made from 100% Dutch milk produced by Dutch cows, following a Dutch recipe & ripened according to Dutch standard can be called 'Gouda Holland Cheese'. You can recognise this cheese from the stamp.

Did you know you can also see the difference between a Gouda farmers cheese and a factory cheese from the stamp? The stamp on a Gouda factory cheese is round, whereas the stamp on a Gouda farmer's cheese has the shape of a barrel. The stamp of a farmer's cheese tells you if the cheese is made from raw milk or warmed ( thermerised) milk.

 

 

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