Christmas in Copenhagen

Top Three European Christmas Destinations

Christmas in Europe is delightful, no matter where you go. The marriage of old world charm with unique traditions makes for a lovely holiday. Here are my picks for the Top Three European Christmas Destinations of 2012.

1.Copenhagen, Denmark – Tivoli Gardens

Christmas in CopenhagenChristmas in Copenhagen is nothing short of enchanting, especially in Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest amusement park in the world, originally opening on the 15th of August in 1843. It is a popular attraction throughout the year, drawing well over four million visitors annually. But you haven’t experienced Tivoli until you have visited for Christmas.

A complete and total fairytale, every holiday season the park and gardens are transformed into a winter wonderland unlike any other. There are over four miles of decorative lights, in addition to almost two-thousand fairy lights used to illuminate over four hundred trees. The glittering weeping willows and the giant Christmas tree are a spectacle to behold.

If you are traveling with children, they will be delighted by the forty-five meter toboggan run, the chance to sit with Santa in his sleigh, and by Pixie Ville. Pixie Ville is home to Tivoli’s mechanical pixies and elves, and you can watch them frolicking in the snow, ice skating, and settling down in their igloos. You can catch a further glimpse at the pixies preparing their celebrations when you chug by them on the Christmas Express. Keep an eye out for Santa and Mrs. Claus!

Even if you’re vacationing without wee ones, Tivoli is still worth the visit. The Christmas market is made up of over seventy decorated stalls that line the garden walkway. Here you can purchase a wide variety of handmade Scandinavian gifts and delectable treats, like iced donuts, caramel apples, and warm, mulled wine. Enjoy your treats as you tour the impressive ice sculptures, and then work off the calories by dancing the evening away to some live holiday music.

If you plan on making the trek to Copenhagen this year, you can expect to see the usual Danish décor replaced with a Russian theme. This includes a brightly colored reproduction of the famous and beautiful St. Basil’s Cathedral. Visit Tivoli between December 26th and 30th, and end the evening with an impressive fireworks display.

2.Rome, Italy – The Vatican

Chistmas with Papa in RomeThis is not a trip I would recommend for families traveling with small children. The late hours and long masses are sure to make them sleepy and restless. However, for those wishing to celebrate Christmas in a deeply religious fashion, midnight mass at the Vatican will provide a moving experience.

You will need a ticket to attend this mass, as it draws quite the crowd. Tickets are free, but it is best to request them in advance to avoid rushing around, or worse, not being able to get in. Even the lines to present your confirmation and pick up your tickets can be extremely long, so dress accordingly. December in Rome can be rather chilly, another reason you may want to avoid bringing wee ones to this event.

Holy Father Benedict XVI will preside over two Christmas masses. The first will take place at midnight on Christmas Eve, December 24th. The second will take place on Christmas day, December 25th, at noon.

3.Nuremberg, Germany – Christkindlesmarkt

European Christmas MarketsCan you think of anything more charming than a Bavarian Christmas? Maybe it is just because I have an Austrian grandmother, so I grew up with rum balls and nutcrackers, but I find Christmas in this part of Europe absolutely magical. Germany is famous for its Christmas markets, and you won’t find another market like the one in Nuremberg.

Every holiday season, on the eve of advent, the market is officially opened following a prologue from the Christmas Angel. Dressed in golden robes with golden, flowing curls, the beautiful Angel ends her speech with, “You men and women, you who were once children, too, be a child again today. Rejoice when Christchild now invites you all to see this market. Whoever comes to visit will be welcome.”

You will find nearly two-hundred stalls selling their wares. From handmade crafts, ornaments, candles and wreaths to fruit cakes, spicy gingerbread, and mulled wine. This is the perfect spot to find a unique ornament that you can cherish for Christmases to come.

Children love the Christkindlesmarkt, and not just because the place is crawling with irresistible sweets. A ride on the steam train or around the old fashioned carousel is fun for the whole family. The House of Stars offers a plethora of ever-changing children’s activities, and every Tuesday and Thursday, the Christmas Angel will be there to read their favorite fairytales.

Melissa Rae Cohen is a travel writer from Portland, Maine. She recommends Auto Europe for your next car rental!

Dublin Lights at Christmascc image by Sebastion Doris on Flickr

Dublin Christmas – Portrait of the City as a Christmas Wonderland

Story by William Brown exclusively for Vagobond.com

Dublin Christmas Lights cc image by Sebastion Doris on FlickrA Dublin Christmas. Dublin may not be the first city you think of for Christmas or Winter travel, but the truth is – it’s a fun city to visit any time of the year. Yes, it rains in Dublin, yes, it can be cold in Dublin but are you there for the outdoors? If you are – then you’ve made a terrible mistake. Dublin isn’t the place for skiing, hiking, or other outdoor activities when it’s cold – but – it’s a city that has weathered the winter for a long time and there is plenty to do indoors at Christmas time.

More than just pubs (which are pretty fantastic anyway – there’s a reason every city in the world has an Irish Pub!) there are spas, gastronomic delights, world class cuisine and plenty of quirky, historic, or downright luxurious hotels in Dublin – like The Westbury Hotel – a five star hote in Dublin. You can relax, watch shows for a fraction of the price you would pay in London or New York, enjoy shopping, and if you are lucky enough to be there at this time of the year you can enjoy a truly Irish Christmas.

Dublin is magnificent at Christmas time. The turning on of the Christmas lights has become an annual pageant that not only switches the lights on, but also kicks up the festive Christmas Spirit like nowhere else on Earth.  More than 30 streets in the city center take part in bringing the season to life.

Whether you are old, young, with family, or on a couple’s holiday – there are numerous Christmas festivals, Christmas Fairs, and other jolly happenings from early December all the way through the New Year.

If you’ve forgotten to send out your Dear Santa letters there are special mailboxes set up just for express service to the North Pole at St. Stephens Green. Santa himself will make appearances at roadshows and malls throughout Dublin bringing elves, Rudolf, Mrs. Claus, and Frosty with him.

You can catch the Santa Experience at Dunnes Store which was voted one of the best children’s Christmas experiences in all of Ireland.  (Dunnes Stores, Henry Street, 2nd Floor, Dublin 1)

In my opinion, one of the best  Santa events is the Santa Grotto at the Dublin Zoo.  From 20-24 December kids can meet Santa, meet gorillas, meet elephants, and arts, crafts and a gift for the kids from old St. Nick himself.

For those who love European Christmas Markets, you won’t want to miss the Christmas Market at Christ Church Cathedralwhich runs for a final day on Saturday, the 22nd of December.  Handmade and festive Christmas crafts and goods are there in plenty for unique gifts and a wonderful Irish Christmas experience.  (Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin 8)

There are literally hundreds of special family Christmas events, plays, shopping center displays, and more in Dublin. Here is a pretty nice list of Christmas events in Dublin.

For the adults there are plenty of Christmas cocktail parties, Christmas jazz, Christmas spas, and Christmas events throughout the city up until the big day. And after that, they continue as New Years Events, after that, it’s St. Patricks Day events…this is Ireland after all. No shortage of excuses to grab a pint of Guinness or a fine glass of whiskey.

Wherever you are Best Wishes for Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Or if you prefer the Gaelic - Le gach dea-ghuí i gcomhair na Nollag agus na h-athbhliana! 

pooping in the manger

Pooping in the Christmas Manger – A Catalan Tradition

Pooping in the manger. Okay…this is a Christmas tradition I can get behind. I love this. Below is a link to a site that sells every type of pooping person you can think of from the Pope to Obama. Below that is an explanation for this strange Spanish Christmas custom from Wikipedia.

25. Caganer Papa Benet XVI Artesanía Caganer, Terra i Mar

The Story Behind Pooping in the Manger

A Caganer is a little statue unique to Catalonia, and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra.

In Catalonia, as in most of Italy, South France and Spain, the traditional Christmas decoration is a large model of the city of Bethlehem, similar to American Nativity scenes that encompasses the entire city rather than just the typical manger scene. The Catalans have added an extra character that is not found in the manger scenes of any other culture. In addition to Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and company, Catalans have the character known as the Caganer. This extra little character is often tucked away in some corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene, where he is not easily noticed. There is a good reason for his obscure position in the display, for “caganer” translates from Catalan to English as “defecator”, and that is exactly what this little statue is doing — defecating.

The reasons for placing a man who is in the act of excreting solid waste from his posterior in a scene which is widely considered holy are as follows:

  1. Just tradition.
  2. Scatological humor.
  3. Finding the Caganer is a fun game, especially for children.
  4. The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. However, this is probably an a posteriori explanation, and nobody would say they put the Caganer on the Nativity scene for this reason.
  5. The Caganer represents the equality of all people e.g. regardless of status, race, gender everyone defecates.

The exact origin of the Caganer is lost, but the tradition has existed since the 18th century. Originally, the Caganer was portrayed as a Catalan peasant wearing a traditional hat called a barretina — a red stocking hat with a black band.

The Catalans have modified this tradition somewhat since the 1940s. In addition to the traditional caganer design, you can easily find other characters assuming the caganer position, such as nuns, devils, Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, historical figures, politicians, Spanish royalty, and other famous people past and present, including Pope John Paul II, Salvador Dalí, prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Princess Letizia and even Osama bin Laden.

The practice is tolerated by the local Catholic church. Caganers are easiest to find before Christmas in holiday markets, like the one in front of the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, which has tables and tables of caganers. Caganers have even been featured in art exhibits.

The caganer is not the only defecating character in the Catalan Christmas tradition—another is the Tió de Nadal, which also makes extensive use of the image of human waste production. Other mentions of feces and defecation are common in Catalan folklore. One popular Catalan phrase before eating says “menja bé, caga fort!” (Eat well, shit strong!).

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