Category Archives: Cultural Travel

Santa Claus – Extraordinary World Traveler Vagabond

Santa Claus – He’s Not Who You Think He Is

origin of Santa ClausEarlier this year, before her 1st birthday, my daughter had the opportunity to visit the real home of Santa Claus. No, we didn’t go to the North Pole. Nor did we go to Lapland.  We didn’t visit with the elves or travel through the snow.

We were in Demre, Turkey. If you don’t believe me, you can read a little about the history of Santa on Wikipedia or you can just read on and trust me with the facts.

If anyone ever tells my daughter that Santa is a made up person, I can show her pictures of us visiting where he really lived. He was a real person. A person named Nicholas.

If you are one of those people who says Santa Claus isn’t real – you’re right because he’s long dead, but he was real. He was a real person, so if you are one of those people who say Santa Clause is a fictional or imaginary character – you are wrong.

Demre Santa ClausSanta Clause was born in the town of Patara , Turkey on the Mediterranean Coast. If you visit today you will find (much to the surprise of many) Santa shops, Christmas shops, and everything Santa you can imagine in this mostly Muslim town. At the time he was born, Turkey wasn’t yet a country and so despite being Anatolian, he was Greek. A Byzantine Christian to be precise. For those who don’t know, Istanbul was the capital of Byzantium and called Constantinople in those days.

His parents left him as a wealthy orphan and he used his inheritance to help the poor who weren’t as fortunate as he.  In particular, he was generous with children and traveled the known world distributing gifts and help to the needy.

Facts about SantaIn 325 A.D. He became the Bishop of Myra (Now Demre, Turkey) and was a part of the Council of Nicea who cobbled together the Holy Bible from a vast assortment of documents. He died December 6, 343 A.D. In fact, in many parts of Europe, December 6 is a day to give gifts and exchange presents.

Six Facts You Didn’t Know About Santa (From Natalie Sayin’s Turkish Travel Blog)

 

So, how did he become Santa Clause?

Here’s a story you won’t see in Christmas cartoons…one of the most famous stories of St. Nick’s generosity was when he gave three orphaned girls dowries so they would be able to marry and wouldn’t have to become prostitutes! It was this gift that some say led to the giving of presents on Christmas today!

Santa Claus is buried hereIn the 10th century – Myra was attacked by Italian sailors who carried away all the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari where they still sit today.  He is the patron saint of archers, sailors, and children to pawnbrokers.

After his death, he was attributed with miracles aplenty. He brought boys murdered by a butcher back to life, he kept a ship from sinking with his prayers, and he levitated one sailor from the water to save his life. Hmmm…I believe he can fly!

Clement C. Moore, an American professor of divinity, was the one who turned Saint Nicholas into Santa with his 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” The poem provided the inspiration for the first portrait of Santa Claus, drawn by newspaper cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1870.

After he died, he was made a saint and a tomb was built for him in Demre. The Church of St Nicholas was built over that tomb in the 6th Century. It is a ruin now, but still a very beautiful piece of  Anatolian Byzantine architecture. Many of the mosaics and frescoes have survived.  There is a tomb there, but the bones are in Bari.

Baba Noel Santa Claus StatueSt. Nicholas is the paton saint of Russian Orthodoxy, so it’s not surprising that on peak days (around December 6th) you can find up to 60 buses per day of tourists – mostly from Russia. The government of Turkey issued a Santa Claus stamp in 1955 and have heavily promoted ‘Noel Baba’ as a tourist draw. It’s a pretty good one if you ask me.

 

Top 5 Last Minute European Christmas City Breaks

Barcelona at Christmas ccimage courtesy of Carquinyol on FlicrTaking a European Christmas city break around this time is an absolute must- do. The plethora of light switch-ons, shows, festivals and events means that you’ll never have the same experience twice. Whether you fancy a warm or wintry city break, the next few weeks are the best time to climb aboard a train, plane or sleigh and take a last minute city break to one of these five destinations over the festive season.

 1: Barcelona, Spain

It’s not the first place you think of when conjuring up the image of a white and wintry Christmas, but the Catalonian capital certainly does it in style. Hop on a plane and spend a long weekend wandering around the 300-plus stalls at the Fira de Santa Lucia Market, which dates back to the 1800s. The indoor market is filled with traditional Catalonian treats , mistletoe and handmade gifts. Temperatures in the city can reach 12 degrees, so you might be able to get away with leaving your raincoat at home.

 2: Ljubljana, Slovenia

As one of Europe’s must up-and-coming destinations, Ljubljana is definitely on the ‘must-see’ city break list before it is overrun with tourists. Christmas is the ideal time to visit, as the province is famed for its outstanding Christmas lights display. Colourful lights adorn the compact city centre, covering trees and buildings alike, and run through the Festive Fair which runs from 3 December -1 January. It’s a great place to visit in the week between Christmas and New Year to keep the festive spirit alive for a few more days.

3: Vienna, Austria

Back on much more traditional festive ground, Vienna and its neighbouring cities are synonymous with Christmas markets. Vienna’s largest Christkindlmarkt is open from 17 November until Christmas eve, so you’ve still got time to book a last minute ticket. It sees the huge Rathausplatz transformed into a traditional outdoor market, with almost 200 stalls on offer. Sip a glass of Gluwein as you wander around the wooden stalls and pick up handmade Christmas gifts to bring back home.

4: Saint Helier, Jersey

A beautiful city at the best of times, Saint Helier truly comes alive at Christmas time. The small capital city is transformed by La Fête dé Noué, which celebrates the Norman-French history of the island over Christmas. The side streets are filled with twinkling white lights, and there’s a winter walk that you can take part in to learn more about the culture of the island. Traditional British and French customs are integrated, making this a truly one-off city break.

5: Rovaniemi, Finland

No Christmas city break countdown would be complete without paying homage to the home of Santa Claus. The Santa Claus Village at the Arctic Circle is a once in a lifetime experience, and a city break that everyone in the family will enjoy. You can stay in the beautifully lit-up Village, and meet reindeer, take a husky-led sleigh ride and of course, meet Santa himself. It’s pricey and commercialised, but without doubt makes a last minute Christmassy city break that no child will forget in a hurry.

A Guide to Christmas Markets in and around Germany

The origins and history of the German Christmas Markets

Nowadays, it is easy to keep warm during the winter. Thanks to heaters of all kinds, you can survive the winter months without shivering. However, this was not always the case. Not too long ago, inhabitants of cold countries had to find other ways to keep warm. Setting up fires was one option. But a significantly more celebratory one was Christmas markets.

European Christmas Markets
Christmas market in Cologne, Germany cc Image courtesy of Swiv on Flickr

Many people might think that Christmas markets came about to celebrate Christmas. However, if you really read the history, this was only a secondary purpose. The markets didn’t come about as Christmas markets as such. Instead, they were winter markets in more general terms, specifically serving the purpose of combatting the cold.

In Germany, inhabitants would come together to huddle around fires and sip “Glühwein,” literally meaning “glow-wine.” Already in the 14th century, the markets served as a place to purchase goods that would keep them warm during the long winters. From furs and hats to coats and gloves, just about any item that would protect you from the wind and snow was sold. In addition, the outdoor markets were a place where you could find handicrafts, such as woven baskets or artisan toys. To keep energized, people would stock up on baked goods, such as the typical German gingerbread (“Lebkuchen”). If you wanted something savory, simple hot meals, such as sausages and soups, could be eaten at the stands as well.

 

The 21st century version

German Christmas Markets
Lebkuchen,” the typical German gingerbread cc Image Courtesy of Patrick Ciebilski on Flickr

As time went by, the markets became an important event approaching Christmas Eve. Today, thousands of tourists flock not only to Germany, but also to Austria and Poland to visit these kinds of markets. In fact, sometimes it may be that more English, Spanish or Japanese is being spoken at the markets than German.

Over time, the markets have also become more commercialized. Glowing lights have been added, as have more modern cooking tools and heaters. But that doesn’t mean that the traditions have been overtaken completely.

It is worth noting that there are hundreds of different markets in and around Germany. Clearly, some are more well-known than others, and they also vary in size. In fact, there are even significant differences in their names. While some are explicit Christmas markets (“Weihnachtsmarkt”), others are called “Christkindlmarkt,” which refers to the angel that provides children with presents on Christmas Eve. Others, in turn, go by the name of “Adventmarkt,” meaning advent market.

Planning your trip

German Christmas Markets
Glass decoration on sale at the German Christmas markets. cc Image Courtesy of Nanand81 on Flickr

Due to the popularity of travel during the Christmas season, which includes visiting the markets, it is advantageous to plan ahead.

As mentioned above, there are a plethora of Christmas markets in and around Germany, so you might be asking yourself “where do I get started?” Here are some of the most famous Christmas markets to choose from:

Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt in Nürnberg. This market is one of the most well-known versions, especially since it includes the figure of a “Christkind,” represented each year by a young girl.

Christkindlmarkt in Munich at the Marienplatz. This market originated in the 14th century, when it was called the “Nikolausmarkt,” meaning “Santa Claus market.” With the influence of Protestantism in the 19th Century came the transition from the Nikolaus to the Christkind as the one who brings the gifts. In Munich thus happened what had already occurred in the 16th century in cities such as Nürnberg and Straßburg: the Nikolausmarkt became the Christkindlmarkt.

Kölner Weihnachtsmarkt in Cologne.

These are the most well-known markets in Nürnberg, Munich and Cologne. However, each city is also home to numerous other versions. In Munich, for example, you can head to the Wittelsbacherplatz square to go to the Mittelaltermarkt, which literally means “medieval market.” Here, you can revel in traditional goods, sold at reconstructions of medieval stands. All the vendors are even dressed in medieval clothes!

Outside of Germany, famous markets include the versions in Salzburg and Vienna in Austria, and Bremgarten as well as Lucerne in Switzerland.

If possible, come visit on a weekday, as weekends are particularly crowded. Moreover, the closer you get to Christmas, the more hectic it becomes as everyone is rushing to buy last-minute presents. If you can, buy your presents early so you won’t have to be in a hurry.

Once you are there

Visiting a Christmas market has, as already mentioned above, become more and more of a commercial event. However, you can still relish the old traditions.

Be sure to try the local foods, such as the Lebkuchen (typical baked goods) and Rostbratwürstchen (grilled sausages) from Nürnberg and the typical Maroni (chestnuts) offered almost at all German, Austrian and Swiss markets. At the latter, a Raclette (bread dipped in cheese) will surely warm you up as well.

As for drinks, adults should try sipping Glühwein and Eierlikör (egg-nogg liquor) and the children should head for Kinderpunsch (children’s fruity “glühwein” without alcohol) – there’s something for everyone! Most of all, the idea is to have a good time with friends and family.

Last but not least, dress warm. Wearing ski pants has even become an option for some, especially little kids.

All in all, the goal is to forget the Christmas stress and relax!