As the crisp air brightens my cheeks and little puffs of breath escape from my mouth, I inhale the scent of sizzling meat being cooked to perfection. The tantalizing aroma drifts on a light breeze from cheerfully decorated wooden huts and I wonder how many minutes will pass by until we succumb to buying a sausage. Festive lights hang in a canopy over the street, casting a warm glow onto the revelers swaying to the music as they peruse the wares for sale. Although I feel foolish, I can’t wipe the giddy grin from my face. Advent has begun – and there is nothing quite like a European Christmas market to usher in the holiday spirit. With a steaming cup of spiced, mulled wine in one hand and my other tucked into the crook of Kris’s arm, we navigate our way through the merriment as we celebrate the beginning of Christmas in Zagreb, Croatia.
What is it about vendors selling local wares from huts clustered together in a central square that is so appealing? Is it the twinkling lights that are draped on the trees? The sound of music that fills the air? The chill that is warmed by wood-burning fires? Maybe it’s the mulled wine that amplifies the festive atmosphere. I think, however, it is the quaintness of the markets that I find most enjoyable. Friends and families come together in an age-old tradition under the soft glow of lights to stroll the lanes, peruse the merchandise – and sip warm gluhwein.
Housesitting for the holidays is a new concept for us. From the moment we agreed to housesit near Nijmegen, Netherlands from mid-November to the end of January, we began pondering how we would celebrate (American) Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. What are the local traditions? Will we get a tree and decorations? Will there be Christmas markets? Do the Dutch celebrate with a feast? What is on the menu?
New places, new people, new food; I crave trying new and different things. Thus, a lifestyle of travel – constantly being in new places, meeting new people and tasting new food – suits me well. But, when it comes to holidays, I have a deep desire for traditional celebrations. Regardless of where I happen to be in the world, I go to great lengths to ensure certain holidays are ‘properly’ observed.
While it is easy to feel Christmassy in Europe, recreating American holidays abroad, like 4th of July in New Zealand, can be a bit more difficult. Fireworks on The Fourth or football on Thanksgiving are unlikely to happen in a foreign country, but preparing a traditional meal is certainly achievable. Last year for Thanksgiving we ‘made do’ in Cape Town, South Africa with a two-burner stove and a microwave to prepare a small deli turkey and simple sides.