The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Around the World and Back to Tennessee
What is more festive than hot drinks, hot food, lights, decorations, music and piles and piles of gifts all in one street corner? Nashville has some great spots to enjoy the holidays this way – as so do many European cities. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and that means the whole world is gearing up for Christmas festivals and markets.
First stop: Prague, Czech Republic.
Christmas time in the Czech Republic is a magical experience. If you ever get the chance to go to Prague, December is the best time to experience unique Czech culture. The Christmas markets in “the City of a Hundred Spires” can be found in multiple locations throughout the town. They consist of brightly decorated wooden huts stocked with local handicrafts and traditional Christmas treats. You can find ceramics, jewelry, embroidered lace, wooden toys, scented candles, ornaments, hats and gloves, puppets and dolls dressed in traditional Czech costume.
If you’re hungry, you can enjoy delicious local food: large hams roasted on spits; barbequed sausages; Hungarian flatbread topped with garlic, cheese and ketchup; pancakes; and a variety of sweets and cakes, such as spicy gingerbread and Trdelnik – a hot sugar coated pastry.
Wash it all down with one of the famous Czech beers: Pilsner Urquell, Statropramen or Budvar. If you’d rather have a warm drink in your hands while strolling in the cold air, try honey wine; mulled wine; hot chocolate; or grog, a mixture of rum, water, lemon and sugar.
My favorite Czech Christmas markets:
Old Town Square
Stop #2: Vienna, Austria.
Vienna, Austria is another European city well-known for its celebration of the holidays through pop-up fairs. Similar to the markets in Prague, Austrian Christmas bazaars are packed full of various festive gifts, food and drinks. The Viennese Dream Christmas Market in front of the City Hall is an unforgettable highlight for those eager to get into the spirit of the season. The stunning backdrop gives this market a grand feeling, and international choirs singing carols on the weekends make the experience unforgettable.
Christmas and New Year’s Market at Shönbrunn Palace is equally stunning. Approximately 60 exhibitors present hand-crafted and original gifts – hand-made décor and nativity sets – and the entire bazaar sits directly in front of the famous Palace. The scent of freshly baked Vanillekipferl – perfectly light, crescent-shaped biscuits – and spicy, hot punch create a wonderfully merry atmosphere for visitors.
Third stop: Nashville, Tennessee.
In addition to European Christmas festivities, Nashville, my college town, is home to a few of my favorite Christmas celebrations in the world.
A Country Christmas at Opryland
There are so many things to do at the Opryland Hotel at Christmas time: snow tubing, photos with Santa, carriage rides, breakfast with The Grinch – the list goes on – but my favorite activity is simply admiring the lights, taking in the atmosphere and grabbing dinner. Every year, the beautiful Gaylord Opryland is decked in more than 3 million lights throughout the inside and outside of the hotel grounds. My favorite spot to grab a bite is Ravello – a restaurant featuring updated Italian cuisine in the Resort’s garden courtyard.
Cheekwood Botanical Garden Christmas
“The prettiest winter stroll of the season,” according to the Cheekwood Estate & Garden’s website and any Nashville native you might ask. One million holiday lights decorate the stunning gardens, real reindeer visit the grounds every night, holiday carolers and Santa himself make scheduled appearances, and s’mores pits, gingerbread decorating and delicious hot drinks make for a one-of-a-kind Nashville holiday experience.
You’ll find that December is a festive month anywhere you venture out in the world. To know that everyone across the globe is celebrating something similar at the same time – that’s what makes this time of year the most wonderful.