Celebrations Around the World

Whether its lighting candles, decorating trees, or adorning one’s house with paper lanterns, international holiday traditions are as varied as they are ubiquitous at this time of year. Throughout the world, each celebration is generally accompanied by a number of smaller, yet equally notable holiday rituals. Here are just a few of the many ways to celebrate this year.

Travel Croatia

In central Europe, on the edge of the Adriatic Sea, rests the Republic of Croatia. Here, winter celebrations begin as early as December 6, on St. Nicholas Day when children get gifts from St. Nicholas. The real holiday season begins on St. Lucy’s day, December 13, as wheat seeds are planted in a shallow bowl of water. By Christmas Eve, the wheat seeds will have sprouted and grown several inches and are tied together in ribbons of red, blue and white, the colors of the Croatian flag. Families decorate trees and enjoy a large meal on Christmas Eve, while dedicating Christmas Day to religious observances. In addition to family gatherings, there are also a number of Christmas markets throughout Croatia. Zagreb, the nation’s capital, is known for its well-decorated Christmas market, displaying lights, ornaments, and a large Christmas tree in the city’s main square.

Tuscany Bike Tours

Moving east to Italy, a land known for its festive traditions, Christmas revelry begins December 24 and lasts right through January 6, Epiphany. Though the presence of Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) is gradually being adopted in Italy, the holiday season truly culminates on Epiphany and Italian children are more likely to receive gifts from La Befana on Epiphany, than from Santa on Christmas day. Stemming from Roman folklore, the Legend of La Befana has much deeper roots in Italy than those of Father Christmas. The story begins with the Three Wise Men, wandering in search of baby Jesus. La Befana aids them in their journey, providing the men with shelter for an evening. Grateful for her help, when the Wise men set out the following day to continue their search, they ask La Befana to join them. She initially declines, and the men leave. However, later in the day, she has a change of heart, and sets off to find them. She never managed to reconnect with the men, nor did she find Jesus, but each year, on the evening of January 5, she continues her search, leaving presents, candy and toys for young children along the way.

Spain Bike Tours

Rivaling Zagreb’s Christmas market, many regions in Spain have outstanding Christmas bazaars as well as a number of local winter customs. Winter holiday celebrations in Spain can vary by region, but often include bonfires to celebrate the winter solstice, outdoor markets, religious observances, and interesting Epiphany celebrations. The Three Wise Men and their January 6 feast day play a much more prominent role in Spain than Christmas day does. As dusk sets in, on the eve before the Epiphany, a large parade of “Wise Men” begins. The Kings march along the main streets of cities and towns and toss out sweets to children. Depending on the local tradition, the crowd may follow the procession, or the Kings may travel through the town with large, ornate floats in tow. As the parade winds down, families return home. Children leave their shoes and boots outside overnight, and the Wise Men fill their footwear with gifts. Finally, on the day of Epiphany, a large breakfast is held to mark the holiday as families gather to exchange more gifts and enjoy meals together.

Throughout the world, there are countless ways to celebrate the onset of winter, and the holidays that occur in December and January. Do you have a unique way of bringing in the New Year? Share your favorite holiday celebration with us in the comments section.

Old and New: Traveling the Czech Republic

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is a land of complementary contradictions. It is a young country, only 17 years old, and yet it is steeped in history. Its cities feature an array of modern buildings standing among classical structures, and though Czech is a landlocked nation, the prominence of the Vltava River throughout the country will give visitors a sense that wherever you might be, water is rarely far off.

The Czech Republic is technically one of the younger nations in Europe, having been officially established in 1993. However, the Czech or Bohemian state emerged as early as the 9th century. Sharing borders with Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria, today’s Czech Republic abounds in a variety of historical and cultural influences, especially in its capital, Prague.

Prague

A walkable city, Prague boasts some of Europe’s most exciting architecture and is a virtual full-scale, living museum dedicated to the juxtaposition of a variety of architectural styles. Historic structures like the Charles Bridge and Prague castle work to complement very modern buildings like Tancici Dum. One of the most recognizable attractions in Prague, the Astronomical Clock, rests on the Town Hall Tower in the center of the city. The five hundred year old clock is most engaging at the turn of the hour when two doors above the clock open to reveal a brief procession of the 12 Apostles, accompanied by a ringing of bells. Though each hour generally draws an audience, the clock is high enough overhead that any vantage should grant a direct view.

Charles Bridge

Continuing through the city center, the Charles Bridge is the main thoroughfare leading up to Prague Castle. The bridge offers fantastic photo ops of the city from above the Vltava River. Your best bet is a scenic sunrise or sunset shot, and enjoy breakfast, lunch, or an afternoon beer while the path to the castle gets bit more crowded.

After taking a leisurely trek across the famed Czech bridge, you’ll meander along a cobblestone path to Prague Castle. The 9th century Castle offers outstanding views of the city, as well as another intriguing display of various types of architecture all in one building. Early visits will also grant a viewing of the changing of the castle’s guard.

Finally, if the bustle of the city has you after a change of pace, seek out one of Prague’s many public gardens. The Golden City features a myriad of relaxing spots to rest and enjoy the scenery. One of the best central escapes is Letná Gardens. Letná offers another tremendous panoramic view of the city, and even has an outdoor beer garden to enjoy in the summer months.

Czech Vacation

Once you’ve gotten a fair sampling of the Czech capital, continue south along the Vltava River and you’ll eventually come upon the historic city of Český Krumlov. With roots as far back as the 13th century, Český Krumlov is another architectural treasure and the small city retains an old-world feel through its ornate Baroque, Renaissance and Gothic style buildings. Included in VBT’s Czech Vacation, a guided tour of Krumlov Chateau is a must when visiting the scenic gem of the Southern Czech Republic. The Vltava River also offers a number of exciting and engaging activities like kayaking and canoeing. After seeing the sights of Český Krumlov, be sure to relax and enjoy the bohemian ambiance at one of the city’s inspired restaurants.

The Czech Republic has a number of natural wonders and an abundance of peaceful countryside, all best taken in by bicycle. Join VBT on one of our most popular Bike Tours in Europe: The Czech Republic, Germany & Austria. What’s your favorite spot in the Czech Republic, or where would you most like to visit?