Christmas time is always a hard time of year to be away from family. Honestly, for the most part, if you asked me where home is, I wouldn’t say Canada, I would tell you where I am now. Of course I always miss my family, and the few friends I have in there, but Canada doesn’t really feel like home anymore. However, if you asked me where my home is at Christmas time, I would have a different answer for you. At Christmas, Canada is always home. My family’s log home in Langley, sitting next to the fire with my dog and a cup of tea is home. Christmas dinner with the cousins, and watching movies with the parents is home. Decorating the tree with my mum and Christmas shopping with my brother is home. Breakfasts on Saturday mornings with my Dad is home. Canada is always home at Christmas, no matter where I am in the world.
For the last two years I have spent Christmas in Istanbul, and while it is hard enough being away from family around the holidays, it is so much harder being in a country that doesn’t even acknowledge that it is Christmas time. Turkey, being a Muslim country, doesn’t celebrate the holidays, and you might think that it doesn’t matter, when you’re far from home anyway, but it really does. There’s nothing worse than missing your family and missing out on the entire holiday season as well. There were no Christmas lights for us last year, or decorated trees. There were no markets, or mulled wine, or Secret Santa gifts and Christmas parties at work. And of course, there were no holidays from work as well; in Istanbul Christmas was just another day of the year to everyone. I celebrated as best I could, along with all my friends who were far from home and missing their families too, but it’s not the same. There are very few times over the past few years that I’ve felt homesick, but those two Christmases in Turkey are probably at the top of the list.
This year however, not only did I finally make it home for Christmas, but I also experienced a proper Christmas time here in Budapest as well. I can’t tell you the difference it makes, being here over the holidays rather than in Turkey. Had I not gone home for the holidays, I am sure I would still have enjoyed my Christmas here much more than I have in past years. Europe certainly does Christmas properly; much better than we do in North America anyway. Come the end of November the Christmas markets were up and the lights were hung on the trees all the way down Andrassy Street. There were Christmas trees in all the squares and the smell of mulled wine was everywhere. I spent so many nights with friends at the Christmas markets this winter, just wandering through and enjoying the festivities. There were stalls selling everything, from handmade ornaments, to candles, to chocolates, marzipan and liquor. And the smell of the Christmas markets is the best part, I’m certain that if Christmas had it’s own signature smell, it would smell like mulled wine. There’s nothing better than good mulled wine on a cold night in December.
Not only did I enjoy the festivities in Budapest, but also managed to make a trip to the Christmas markets in Vienna one weekend. We our time visiting Christmas markets around the city, and even made it out to the markets at Schonbrunn Palace. The palace itself was beautiful, and made the perfect backdrop for the towering Christmas tree in the center of the market stalls. We drank mulled wine and wandered around the palace grounds before heading back to the city to enjoy more mulled wine in the many mugs we collected. We ate good food, and admired the craftsmanship of the beautiful ornaments and gifts that we didn’t have in our Budapest markets.
Now that Christmas is over and I’m back to work, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my holidays. While nothing tops being home in Canada with the family over Christmas, I can honestly say that no place has been more festive or had more holiday spirit than here in Europe. I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to experience a Christmas season in Europe and certainly plan on visiting many more Christmas markets in many more places for my Christmas shopping mulled wine in the future!