Any time our family is traveling it is the most wonderful time of the year! But traveling during the Christmas and New Year holiday season has got the be the MOST wonderful time of all! But just like celebrating the holidays back home, finding the Christmas Spirit and true meaning of the season requires a bit of planning and effort. Here are a few ways we Ericksons celebrated in 2016:
1 – Travel in a Christian Nation. After all, Jesus is the reason for the season! After five wonderful months in Asia, we decided to head to Europe for some chilly winter weather, fabulous old churches, store windows decorated with nativities, and Christmas lights, trees and hoopla.
Skyscanner’s cheapest flights out of Thailand dropped us in Christmas-crazy Colonge, Germany and we could not have asked for a better Christmas immersion spot. Festive Christmas markets dot Colonge, Germany’s fourth largest city. Each market has its own style, theme, flair, trinkets, and food, but all share the love of the Season mixed with a heavy dose of Saint Nicklaus.
Little did we know that Colonge’s major draw, the Cologne Cathedral, in which construction began in 1248 and became a UNESCO World Heritage in 1996 after surviving terrific WWII bombings, is traditionally believed to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men! The box was opened in the 1880s and inside bone and garment fragments were found.
2 – Make a Christmas Craft. What would Christmas be without that adorable holiday craft made by the youngest member of the family? Take time to create something special with your kids. Remember, you don’t need tons of expensive art supplies, a huge work table, or even a place to display the art. Thomas loved making this angel masterpiece at a Colonge Christmas market. It decorated our hostel room for a few days, and then he left it behind for the next set of travelers to enjoy. Crafts are part of Christmas.
3 – Splurge at a fancy café and order some yummy hot chocolate and pastries. Actually, Spain introduced us to churro and chocolate! The cup of chocolate with steamed milk is dense and thick into which you dip your freshly fried churro dough. YUMMY!!! And there is something really great about sitting on a patio, sipping hot coco, munching on sweet treats while frenetic holiday shoppers rush by loaded down with bags, packages and crying children. By savoring a treat we realized life on the road can be simple and sweet at the same time.
Regardless the time of year, extended travel is more than a vacation; it’s living life in a different place. And much of life is the same regardless of where we travel. Life includes Christmas, birthdays and other holidays to be celebrated with old, familiar traditions from home while embracing new favorites from temporary homes.
4 – Attend a free holiday concert. Every town has tons of them this time of year … dance recitals, orchestral performances, plays, bands, street processions, choirs, street performers. The key is to slow down a bit, research the area, and actually GO! We happened upon a free orchestral performance in this gorgeous church in Málaga, Spain.
Not certain what the point of this street procession was, but it sure was lively and drew a crowd.
And Christmas light shows set to music are always fun.
5- Blast the holiday tunes – in a new language! This seems to be so trite and obvious, but pumping up the Christmas music will lift your spirits and set you in the holiday state of mind. We like listening to familiar tunes and hymns in the car, in the hotel or in our earphones. Hearing those same songs in the language of the country in which you are traveling is also really special as it makes you stop and concentrate on the words of these very familiar songs and their lyrics.
When you translate the hymn “Silent Night” from English to Spanish you get “Noche de luz, noche de paz.” which means “Night of light, night of peace.” A nice little twist to a beloved Christmas carol which caused us to think more deeply about the night Jesus was born. He is the Light of the world who seeks to bring peace to each of us and hearing music about him is always a grand component of Christmas.
6 – Adopt a new Christmas tradition from another country. Each country you travel to has new and delightful seasonal traditions, foods, games, and legends. Researching how and why a country celebrates the season will add dimension to your own Christmas experience abroad.
For us, we found it super refreshing that, unlike America, Spain doesn’t go hog wild for Santa Clause. In Andalusia we found great emphasis placed on the Nativity story and nearly every shop window, town square, municipal building, or home goes to great lengths to display elaborate Nativity scenes, or Belens. Jesus is the reason for the season and these folks know it.
For Catholics worldwide attendance at the midnight Christmas Mass is a must. We will be putting on our best tee-shirt to attend Mass while in Seville, Spain at The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, or Seville Cathedral. It’s going to be grand … this church is the third largest in the world! Can’t wait!
Another tradition we learned about while in Spain revolves around gift giving. Children of all ages look forward to receiving gifts, but only one arrives on Christmas Day which comes from a family member. January 6th is the big present day as the holiday focus shifts to Epiphany, or the festival of the Three Magi Kings, who brought gifts to the Christ-child. Huge parades happen right after sundown and kids collect sweets and trinkets thrown to them from the Kings who pass through the town. At home, kids write letters to Papa Noel and go to bed early in hopes that someone will bring them some gifts in the morning. Cool traditions!
Regarding gift giving while traveling – space is always limited and complicates life on the move when more stuff is collected. How did we deal with gift giving? Easy … we did not give gifts! This year we realized traveling and seeing the world as a family was the best possible gift we could receive and we would enjoy this wonderful gift. Rachel suggested we draw family names and write love notes to each other. A perfect idea! We used the prompts “I love you because …”, “My favorite Christmas memory with you is …”, and “If I had all the money in the world I would buy you …”. Christmas morning will be special opening these gifts of love.
7 – Watch movies, Christmassy ones, or not. Part of our Christmas tradition includes watching favorite movies related, or not, to Christmas. Just because we are on the road we don’t abandon this tradition because we are on “vacation” when we usually feel compelled to remain in a constant state of motion. Vacation seems to push us to always be on the go, always out and about, always doing, or “spreading out and getting what we can,” as my dad would say. But extended travel, or living life in a different place, give us permission to just live life.
It’s perfectly wonderful to stay in the room and stream a family favorite movie, snuggle up, eat junk food, relax, laugh, and watch mom nod off as soon as the lights lower. We also enjoy going out to the movie theater and have found the latest blockbusters shown in English, either subtitled, dubbed or just normal, in most major cities. This year we can’t wait to watch the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, in Sevilla!
I have to add … much of Christmas for us also includes spending time reading great books. Spending time reading while abroad may seem like a silly thing do while traveling, but for us, travel is living life, and life for us includes reading. A lot. During Christmas. Nothing makes a story come alive better than reading it in the setting from which it springs. I want to read Don Quixote this Christmas while in Spain, but, it’s a big one. Perhaps I’ll take my book to the churro and chocolate café and set up shop…
8 – Serve others. Christmas is about love and showing love for others manifests in acts of service. Service does not always mean organized projects involving paint or weed whackers. We try to serve others by dropping a few coins in a beggar’s cup, tidying up our hotel room before we check out, picking up a hitchhiker who needs a ride, or showing an extra measure of patience for our own family members.
9 – Skype, FaceTime, Social Media family and friends. Distance does not mean detachment from loved ones during the holidays. Make time during travel to check in with those back home and enjoy their festivities. The frequent text or call home keeps homesickness at bay and allows faraway folks the chance to feel included in your travel life. You can also make videos filled with holiday cheer and post privately on YouTube. Family and friends go hand in hand with Christmas so don’t forget to reach out and touch someone!
“The friendship of people who come and go, for whatever length of time, is not determined by their absence. What matters … is your existence in the consciousness of the village. If someone talks about you, or if you appear in their dreams, you are present – you have reality.” – Paul Theroux
10 – Enjoy family! Christmas is always fun with family regardless of where you are. Spending time together is the best way to get the Spirit of Christmas.