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Experiencing Christmas in West Europe

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By the time this post is published, Christmas day will have passed. However, many believe that the twelve days of Christmas begins on 25 December and not before, so there’s that.

After having spent two Christmases in Western Europe, I often find myself reminiscing about the atmosphere of those times. Christmas is often called a magical season, a celebration of the miraculous birth of the Saviour of the world, and a time for family and kindness. “Winter Wonderland,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and “12 Days of Christmas” were beyond my comprehension as a child growing up in the tropics and not being Christian from the beginning. Yet, as a child, I dreamed of experiencing the lights, the snow, and the spirit of the season as shown on TV.

While there hadn’t been much snow on my travels thus far, I managed to check everything else off the list. It was more than I could ever ask for, and yet still left me with the desire for more.

Christmas in the UK

I had the misfortune of losing my phone, along with all the photos I had taken in the United Kingdom, to a pickpocket in London. The only pictures I have left to share are those from my social media

Nevertheless, my time in London and Edinburgh holds special memories as it was my first experience of winter and the festive season. I didn’t know what to expect, but you can imagine my utter delight in discovering Christmas markets, tasting hot chocolate, and admiring the lights and decorations throughout the city. From the market at South Bank to Hyde Park’s marvellous fair, and finally, the famous Edinburgh Christmas Market—I had probably seen them all, whether big or small.

On Christmas eve, I had the opportunity to attend a party with my new friends, complete with a traditional roast and plenty of fun. It helped a lot to feel less lonely traveling alone in a foreign country.

Borough Market was unbelievably crowded on Christmas morning, with shoppers scrambling to secure last-minute ingredients for their dinners. Perhaps it could be considered part of the festive rush not to be missed.

It’s worth noting that public transport doesn’t operate on Christmas day, and most establishments are closed. So, I soaked in the peaceful atmosphere by walking from my Airbnb at Baker Street to Hyde Park, where the local swimming club held their annual Christmas swimming race. I then continued on to Trafalgar Square, which was crowded with tourists and cheers, before finally ending up at my friends’ place past Covent Garden to chill for the day.

The only eateries open were mainly those in Chinatown, with prices marked up by 50% and only cash accepted. My friend and I managed to find a chain Italian restaurant that didn’t mark up and accepted cards, so we ended our day with pizza and pasta.

Is it worth experiencing Christmas in London? Absolutely! In fact, the entire season was as magical as I had imagined. The experience could be further enhanced with Christmas at Kew and Christmas at Charles Dickens Museum, but for the time being, I was well satisfied.

Christmas in Reykjavik

I landed in Iceland in the late evening of 5 January, marking the last day of Christmas in the country. I was delighted by the fireworks across the city on the way from Keflavík International Airport and the remaining Christmas lights still twinkling throughout the city, as if I were celebrating the festive season all over again.

The Yule Cat was a prominent centerpiece throughout the city as I wandered from street to street and store to store. It is known in Icelandic Christmas folklore as a vicious being that eats people who don’t receive new clothes by Christmas eve (or something to that effect, as there are many versions of the legend). For a self-declared cat lady like myself, vicious or not, I was ecstatic to learn about this cultural aspect.

Although I didn’t have the full experience of the Christmas season in Iceland, a small glimpse of it was enough to make me hope for a return. In fact, it is said that the New Year celebration there is one of the best you could experience in the world!

Christmas in France

I wouldn’t say that I had experienced a real Christmas in France, as it was during the COVID pandemic when I stationed myself in Lyon for a moment. I had a glimpse as usual, especially during Lyon’s Festival of Lights. So while nothing extravagant was erected, I was glad to admire the little lights placed by the windows of the residences.

I was staying with the host of an AirBnB at the time, and I had a pleasant time decorating a real Christmas tree for the first time with her. It was very simple, with a few lights and ornaments, but for some reason, it still brought some cheer when looked at from afar. I suppose that’s what they mean when they say: sometimes the simple things are what bring joy into our lives.

Did I also mention the wonderful Christmas chocolate that is everywhere in France? It’s called Révillon chocolate, and it’s such a delight for the season with the way it’s wrapped. Now, whenever Christmas comes, I crave them!

Christmas in the Netherlands

Christmas day of 2020 was spent precisely in the Netherlands, although the restrictions due to COVID pandemic didn’t help my situation. My friend, whom I was staying with, was going home for the festivities, but I couldn’t accompany them as their family had exceeded the allowed number of visitors. “Christmas shouldn’t be spent alone,” was what they lamented, and I gained a deep appreciation for the tradition. After all, I had mostly spent Christmas without much of a celebration, and if anything, alone. Perhaps, one day, I will have a proper celebration of the wonderful season with loved ones.

Much of the account of my exploration of the Netherlands during this season was given in a separate post, Exploring Netherlands from Utrecht, and supposing it was not with the usual amount of festivities due to the restriction. But when a band played carols by a canal in Amsterdam, and Rotterdam decked with its novel decorations and controversial Santa Claus, I think I had a good idea of how Christmas is like here.

For all that matters to me, a Christian girl growing up in a multicultural tropical country, a cold, peaceful Christmas with a cup of hot chocolate was the ideal, and that is almost perfectly enough for me. Almost, because hopefully the next time I come back for Christmas, it will be with a loved one.

Behind the trip

I’m Angie, a traveller, web developer and blogger behind A Head Full of Travel. I’m here to document my adventures through words and photography, kindling a love for life. You can trust that all content and advice shared here is genuine and from my own experiences.


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