Keeping Holiday Traditions While on Vacation in Europe

Instead of sleeping on the sofa bed at grandma's house or spending an entire day in the kitchen cooking the holiday dinner, adventurous families are planning to meet up in places such as Paris, Vienna and Rome for the holidays.

Some people are even skipping family gatherings all together to spend the holidays in Europe with a significant other, friends or solo.

But just because you're spending the holidays on a European vacation, rather than at home, doesn't mean you have to forgo tradition. In fact, Europe is the perfect place for keeping traditions and experiencing some new ones.

If you wish to indulge in the tradition of holiday shopping, Christmas markets abound in Europe. Shop for antique toys, hand-crafted souvenirs, and ornaments in Christmas Markets in France (Strasbourg, La Defense and St. Sulpice in Paris), Austria (Rathausplatz and Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna, Salzburg, and Innsbruck), Germany (Nuremberg), among many others. Many of these old world-style Christmas markets, which usually open late November and run through December, first began during the Middle Ages. With the aroma of spice mulled wine, smoked meats, and sweet treats filling the air and festive sights around every corner, simply wandering through the stalls is an experience in itself.

Holiday decorations are a big part of what makes Europe so enchanting during the winter. The Champs Elysees in Paris with its lighted trees is pure magic. Notre Dame Cathedral also displays its holiday charm with a giant decorated tree. In Bruges, Belgium, the main square, looking much like a life-sized Christmas village you may have constructed as a child, brims with holiday cheer.

You'll spot nativity scenes throughout Italy. Rome's Santa Maria Maggiore, for example, displays one of the oldest nativities in Italy, while one of the largest is in St. Peter's Square.

For many of us, the best thing about spending the holidays on vacation in Europe is not spending it in the kitchen cooking a holiday dinner or cleaning up. Thankfully, you won't have to miss out on eating a good meal.

The French traditionally have Christmas dinner after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Called le reveillon (meaning "waking") the traditional French Christmas dinner may include foie gras, oysters, smoked salmon, lobster, roasted duck, or turkey with chestnuts and La Buche de Noel, a cream cake shaped like a log.

Going to Austria? Christmas dinner usually consists of fried carp, goose, followed by cookies (called lebkuchen) or the famous sacher torte, a chocolate cake first created by Franz Sacher in 1832.

Make reservations for your Christmas dinner or lunch as early as possible. Though some restaurants will be offering special holiday meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many will be closed and others will be booked up far in advance.

Also, keep in mind that various Christmas traditions are observed on different days throughout Europe, for example, gift giving on December 24 instead of Christmas Day, Saint Nicholas Day on December 6, Epiphany on January 6, or Boxing Day on December 26.

Finally, a trip to Europe is an opportunity to create new holiday memories by spending quality time with loved ones or taking part in special activities. Attend a church concert with family members to hear holiday music, spend Christmas Eve at the Vatican; or go ice skating with your significant other at Hotel de Ville in Paris.

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