With the arrival of the holiday season, the mood instantly changes. It becomes more elevated, more nervous at times because there is so many things to do, so many presents to buy, cakes and cookies to bake and visits to plan, but also more cheerful as you keep hearing the holiday songs on the radio and you see the towns put on on their most festive apparel and are full of lights, decorations and the smell of mulled wine.
This year, I am especially proud with the holiday decorations in my hometown Rijeka. I don’ t remember it ever being so beautifully decorated, and I believe that everyone noticed it as well, because the town center is full of people at all times, and the atmosphere is louder and more cheerful than ever.
Add to that the constant sound of holiday music following you around from hidden speakers on our main pedestrian street of Korzo and I can openly admit it: I adore my home town in every time of the year, but this Christmas, it is more beautiful and magical than ever and I love it even more!
Finally, one of my greatest wishes came true! After years and years of being the craziest and most enthusiastic Christmas-obsessed individual around, terrorizing everyone with holiday preparations and festive spirit long before they were due, my family finally granted me the wish and organized a weekend trip to Vienna and Graz, to visit some of their Christmas markets that rank among the most famous ones in Europe. I was really excited about “Christmas coming early this year” in a literal sense, and the experience really did not disappoint me one bit – for two lovely days, in two beautiful Austrian cities, I have lived Christmas with all my senses.
As a part of our two-day Christmas warm-up adventure, we spent a day in Vienna, visiting the famous markets on Stephansplatz and in front of the Rathaus, and a day in Graz, where we spent a lazy Sunday wandering around town and stopping at the Christmas Market in front of the City hall.
The weather was perfect for the occasion – it smelled like winter and snow, but was not too cold to prevent us from spending hours out in the open, it was crowded but not too crowded to enjoy strolling around stalls and although Christmas lights and decorations were not fully lit up yet (this happens around December 6th), the festive, Christmasy atmosphere was present everywhere I looked.
The charm of Christmas markets for me is in the warm, fuzzy feeling that overcomes you, one that makes your eyes glow and that makes you smile all the time, and that fills and engages all your senses. Visiting Vienna and Graz Christmas markets, I could feel it everywhere…
In the smell of spicy mulled wine, strong punch, chestnuts and traditional Austrian food found in so many stalls, such as Wursts (sausages), giant beer pretzels, cotton candy and Zuckermandeln (sugared almonds)…
In the sight of thousands of Christmas lights lighting up the Christmas village in front of Vienna’s Rathaus, flickering in all shapes and sizes, illuminating the outlines of the majestic city hall building and almost every tree in the park…
In the murmur of excited visitors and shouts of children experiencing their Christmas fairy tales or crying out because they saw a stuffed toy or a balloon they really wanted…
In the taste of hot mulled wine burning our tongues, sweet Maroni, gingerbread cookies or waffles…
And in the feel of the texture of Christmas ornaments, coming in all shapes, sizes and materials: from rustic, wooden ones, to durable plastic ones or elegant, expensive glass ones that felt so fragile under my numb, frozen fingers that I was sure that, despite being extra careful, I might end up breaking them.
Some say that Christmas markets in Austria, just like the ones in other parts of Europe, have lost their charm. That they have lost their traditional, crafty atmosphere and that typical, hand-made products gave way to imported goods of inferior quality. That they have become kitschy traps for tourists, too crowded and too expensive. It may all be right, in a way. But to tell you the truth, I didn’t notice. Or is it that I noticed, but didn’t mind? Because I got even more than I hoped for from these Christmas markets, and I had really high expectations. I loved the dizzying chaos of people, sounds, smells, the whirl of lights, colors and ornaments; the sea of smiling faces, joyful children and wonderful winter sights; and the priceless atmosphere of festiveness and joy that is at the same time free and completely priceless. Because Christmas was never really supposed to be about expensive ornaments in the first place, right?
So today, exactly one month before Christmas, I wish you all spend the following thirty days with your loved ones, laughing, having fun, baking, singing, celebrating and decorating. Enjoy your holiday preparations and if you can, toast the holidays with a cup of mulled wine wherever you are!
For those times when it is not very practical to visit famous Austrian holiday markets, such as the ones in Vienna or Klagenfurt, Ljubljana can be quite a lovely alternative. In December, it becomes an exciting, vibrant and beautifully decorated metropolis, not too large but just big enough for all the holiday festivities that happen there.
Everything happens in the center of the town, around the Prešern Square and the Triple Bridge, in the foot of Ljubljana Castle. Numerous wooden booths selling holiday gifts and local specialties invite the people to stroll down the old streets of the town and feel the Christmasy atmosphere, while the smell and taste of hot mulled wine helps to warm up in the low temperatures. The town center becomes a magical place after dark, when Christmas lights on the giant Christmas tree in the Prešern Square and nearby streets turn the town into a magical place that you simply cannot get enough of.
However, the most important aspect of Ljubljana’s holiday appeal are the people that the center is constantly flooded with – friends, couples, families with young children and pets, it seems like everyone is outside, enjoying the holiday magic. Their chatter, song and laughter demonstrate that there is no holiday atmosphere without the ”human factor” and make Ljubljana’s holiday experience something that you won’t forget very easily.