Not so long ago, I decided to escape the cold clutches of the corporate Christmas culture I'd come to resent at home and spend the holiday with friends in Norway. I wasn't in search of anything per se, I really just wanted a change of scenery, some snow, a visit with friends and to experience a different holiday culture with my then, 12 year old nephew.
We started our adventure in The Netherlands and Belgium and absolutely fell in love with European-style Christmases. Walking down narrow cobblestone streets with a slight rainy mist, the smell of chocolate and pastries in the air, the clip-clop sound of horse-drawn carriages, church bells ringing near and far, the cinnamon scented warmth coming from the shops as we passed while enjoying a fresh, warm, sweet Belgium waffle on the way to the huge city squares with towering Christmas trees and Christmas Markets. It was the quintessential European fairy tale.
Strolling around town we felt like little figurines in a porcelain Christmas village. There were no big superstores for one-stop shopping but rather individual specialty shops for bread, eggs, cheese, meats, candy, toys and boutiques. The locals were friendly with smiles and greetings when the passed by. The houses all had their curtains open to the warm, cozy scenes inside their candle-lit and Christmas decorated homes with cats curled up in the window sills through fogged up window panes. Cozy, quaint and quiet, less the occasional church bells or live music from a packed pub and people singing along with the band as they raised their glasses and swayed. It really was movie-like.