Christmas on the Road
It was evening before we realized it was the 4th of July, Halloween went completely unnoticed, and our Thanksgiving dinner was pizza on the beach. Normally, we would spend these holidays in America celebrating to the fullest, but this year is different.
Since June our family of five (six if you count our pup) has been traveling around Europe. After years of late night talks and “what if” conversations, my husband quit his job, we sold almost all of our things, and we started our own company – Around the World Stories – creating audio stories for kids about the countries we visit. We’d been talking about it for years and finally decided to take that leap of faith. We are taking one year to travel, work, play and learn together as a family.
Being in Europe, we aren’t following most of our holiday traditions. But learning about and trying new things – whether it’s new foods, new places or new traditions – are some of the things we love most about this year-long adventure.
We made lanterns on St. Martin’s Day in Germany. We went to the Chestnut festival in Spain in November, saw the fireworks in France for Bastille Day and went to an evening bonfire for Midsummer in Denmark.
When thinking about the Christmas season, we were unsure of how we would do things. Our Christmas traditions have always been important to our family, so when planning this trip my first thought was trying to figure out how we would import as many of our traditions as possible.
I was raised in a German/Czech household in Chicago. My mother came to the U.S. from Germany before I was born and brought with her all her German traditions. Then she married my father, who had just come over from Czechoslovakia and was in no position to show her how Americans celebrate. We always cleaned our boot for St. Nikolaus Day. We always sat down to a very cozy ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ every Advent Sunday. We always opened presents on Christmas Eve and never had stockings hanging on the mantel. We sang ‘O Tannenbaum’ and ‘Stille Nacht’, and even today it’s difficult for me to sing those songs in English. Over the years, my husband and I have also created our own traditions, and I was a bit worried how we would do those things this year on the road. Could we still give the kids a wonderful Christmas while traveling? How would we bake cookies for Advent Sunday, what would we do without our Advent wreath, and what about a tree and decorations? Those were my worries in June – my pre-trip worries. But now that we’ve been on the road for six months, I’m learning to embrace (and often love) change.
On the first of Advent, we were in Marbella, Spain. Our table had four tea lights, simple IKEA white plates and store bought cookies. We took a walk on the beach and played card games with the kids at night. It was perfect.
On the second Advent we walked through the streets of old town Granada and saw an incredible flamenco show. We went to a restaurant and ordered churros with hot chocolate. We laughed as we learned that Spanish hot chocolate is pretty much just meted chocolate and better to eat with a spoon than to drink.
After Spain it was on to Munich for the third Advent. Suddenly it was winter and we were all in the mood for a little chill. We broke out our winter coats and headed straight to the most magical Christmas market of them all — the Chinese Tower in the English Gardens. There are few things in life as perfect as this market. Set in the woods with twinkling white lights all around, a band playing German Christmas music, the feeling of a warm bag of sugared roasted almonds in my cold hands and the sweet smell of cloves and Glühwein in the air. The English Gardens themselves are one of my favorite places in the world, and just walking through the forest was enough to make it a perfect day.
We’re definitely adding candied roasted almonds, a walk in the woods and Spanish hot chocolate to the list of holiday traditions we’d like to bring back home with us after this trip.
As Christmas approaches, we’re still not sure how the day will play out this year. We won’t have piles of presents under the tree nor Christmas parties to go to, but we will be together and we will be making new, wonderful memories and traditions.
Now the only question is – what should we do for New Years?
Tania Landin is the co-founder of Around the World Stories, a company offering original audio stories to teach children about other cultures in a fun and memorable way. www.aroundtheworldstories.com