The holidays bring out my sentimental side. I watch all the holiday movies and cry over Hallmark cards. I love tradition and draw comfort from spending the holidays with family and friends, listening to (dare I say singing) carols, decorating my home and savoring all the decorations around me. While we stay at home for Christmas, we’ve certainly traveled before and after the holidays. Fortunately for us, many places keep their decorations up through Epiphany, January 6, so we’ve seen Christmas decorations in the U.S., the Caribbean, and Europe either before or after Christmas. Here are just a few of the fun photos and memories I found to share. So grab a cup of something warm and visit a few places near and far with me.
If you’re in Rome, Italy, during the Christmas season, you absolutely must see the life-size Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. They also erect a huge Christmas tree in the square, although this is a fairly recent addition. The Pope conducts midnight mass in St. Peter’s Basilica where crowds of people pack the square to watch on large screens. Then on Christmas day the Pope delivers his Christmas message from the balcony of the Papal Apartments. The Catholic Education Resource Center (Saunders, 2003), explains that the first celebration of Christmas occurred in Rome so it seems a fitting place to begin our tour.
Many European cities offer Christmas markets in their city squares. One of the most famous in Rome is the Christmas Market of Piazza Navona where you can buy handmade ornaments, toys, gifts, and foods. Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) even puts in an appearance to warn the children to be good.
While in Ostia Antica, visiting the ancient ruins of the seaport outside of Rome, we had dinner at a trattoria with festive decorations that caught my eye so I took this photo.
Brussels, Belgium, however, had the most eye-catching decorations I’ve seen. Possibly other places use these decorations but I haven’t seen them elsewhere. They feature Santa Claus climbing up the side of the building. In this case, 10 Santas were climbing.
In Belgium, where Dutch and French traditions combine, St. Nicholas and Pere Noel both visit on December 6 bringing gifts for the Feast of St. Nicholas and then again on Christmas. My grandparents were Czech immigrants and we also celebrated St. Nicholas Day when I was a child, getting fruit, nuts and candies in our stockings so I love this tradition. Brussels, like Rome, also features a Christmas Market, Christmas tree, and Nativity in the Grand Place.
My husband, Jim, says you haven’t been to Europe if you haven’t been to Luxembourg so we stayed at the Hotel Italia in Luxembourg City as captured in this photo. We weren’t there while their Christmas Market was operating but I’ve seen photos online and it looks amazing. You can check it out here.
I’ve been fortunate to visit Paris several times while the decorations were up but alas, I have few photos of them. My most vivid memory, however, is of the decorations adorning the department stores in Paris. Similar to what you see in New York City, they delight the eye and fill hearts with Christmas spirit. I have one photo below but I have no idea what store it is. (If you happen to know, post in comments.) Similar to other areas of Europe, we saw a large Christmas tree outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and I understand the largest Christmas Market in Paris is held along the Champs Elysees. Incidentally, both of these traditions, Christmas trees and markets, originated in Germany.
Bayeux, France is one of the most charming towns I have seen. I have a great story about our accommodations in Bayeux that will have to wait for another time but I will just tell you that we went to Bayeux specifically to see the Bayeux tapestry. Unfortunately, it is closed during the month of January every year so we’ll be going back. Tip: Check the opening days and times for every “must see” sight whenever planning a trip. The photos show a restaurant where we ate and a view of the town with lights that were magical at night.
Back in the western hemisphere, we’ve traveled to the Caribbean and I love seeing Christmas decorations in the tropics. Unfortunately, the only photos I found happened to be on cruise ships.
Keeping with the charm of Christmas in warm weather, the lights wrapped around palm trees always thrill me. Phoenix, Arizona does their lighting right.
Closer to home, our family tradition when our children were small was to visit my hometown Wausau, Wisconsin at Thanksgiving and cut a balsam tree at our favorite tree farm, Tannenbaum Acres, in Wittenburg, Wisconsin. The kids enjoyed going over the river and through the woods (literally) to find the perfect tree and the llamas and donkeys that live at the Korbisch’s Tannenbaum Acres got a fair share of their attention.
Thank you for indulging me on my trip down memory lane. I hope you enjoyed seeing a few of the signs of Christmas gleaned from my travels. From home in Iowa where we’ll celebrate Christmas with family including our sons and new daughter-in-law, I’m wishing you many blessings at Christmastime and throughout the new year.
Saunders, Fr. William. (2003). The First Christmas.
Retrieved from http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/the-first-christmas.html