Spending the Holidays Abroad and Making New Traditions

Christmas Markets in Germany
The town center of Dortmund, Germany decorated for the holidays. Photo Credit: enjoyfestivals.com

You don’t realize what a soul-warming gift it is to spend the holidays with your family until you’re living abroad and spending them for the first time alone. In August, I moved to Dortmund, Germany to train and perform with the Dortmund Ballet Company. Dortmund is a West German city located in the Bundesland of North Rhine-Westphalia and has about half a million inhabitants, a big change to living in my hometown of Toronto, Canada.

Spending the holidays abroad on my own has been quite the change for me and has given me some perspective on what I value most; being surrounded by friends and family. Luckily, Germany turns into one big festive country around the holidays and I’ve made some great friends to experience it with.

As is tradition in Germany, the Weihnachtsmarkt (vi-nahkts-marked) or Christmas Market, reigns as the go-to festive event, copied by many cities around the world. It starts in the last few days of November and continues through to December 24. In Germany, Christmas Eve is the biggest and most important day and usually marks the end of the Weihnachtsmarkt.

From about 11am to 11pm, the Weihnachtsmarkt is open in Dortmund dishing out delicious eats and festive handcrafts.  Throughout the downtown core of the city, small booths or kiosks have been set up to provide a charming backdrop. These booths mimic small cabins with lots of Christmas ornamentation.

Sweets solds in German Christmas Markets
Indulging in some sweets is a must at a Christmas Market in Germany. Photo Credit: Marissa Parzei

Even though it may be cold outside, one can truly warm up with a variety of edibles and drinkables, and here in Germany people love to drink! The most common and delicious drink is glühwein, or mulled wine. It is red wine based, served hot, and flavoured with a variety of different spices like cinnamon, clove, and star anise. Another popular drink is eierpunsch. Essentially hot eggnog, this sweet drink is made with white wine, eggs, vanilla and spices.  There is also hot chocolate with many liquor options and of course, this wouldn’t be a German celebration without beer!

In terms of food, there are a lot of delicious goodies to be had, including the signature bratwurst (brat-verst), a German sausage, kartoffel or pommes (potato) served baked, fried, chipped, and pancaked, and a multitude of sweet things. Many booths sell candied nuts and licorice, giant lollies and cookies, and cotton candy.

Food choices include the traditional German sausage, bratwurst, for about 2,50 Euro. Photo Credit: Marissa Parzei

Aside from the food and drinks, there are also handcrafted items, perfect for Christmas gift giving. Woollen knits, handmade soaps, candles, nutcrackers, jewelry, and toys make for one-of-a-kind presents.

Even though I am away from the family this year, what makes this Christmas special is having new traditions to step into. I’ve met some wonderful people here and its nice to have a pseudo-family to celebrate the holidays with. I have invited them over to share my North American tradition on Christmas Eve; the oven-roasted turkey. Many of my newly made friends have never experienced this before and are excited to try a new tradition as well.

It has been an exciting way to get into the holiday spirit by enjoying a hot cup of eierpunsch and mingling with the locals. While I wish I could be home for the holidays, being able to experience new traditions and celebrate the holidays with thousands of people in one giant street party has been truly exhilarating.


This post was written by Marissa Parzei, a ballet dancer who hails from Toronto, Canada. She has recently moved to Dortmund, Germany, navigating her way living in a new country for the first time.


2 thoughts on “Spending the Holidays Abroad and Making New Traditions

  1. Hi, I just stumbled on your travel-blog at the Kejimkujik Facebook Page. I like reading travel stories and I like to travel, just like you. However, I am not a freelance worker, so my holiday time is limited and of course is money.
    Anyhow, it is always nice to read about my homecountry and how foreign people get to know things that are of course totally normal for you as a local.
    I am german and I am always curious to find out how my country appears to foreigeners. Especially when it comes to all the klischees like beer and bratwurst! By the way, it it not “brat-verst”, but “brat-woorst”, spoken just like the double o in school 😉
    In most cases I read it with a smile and I am always happy when germany makes a good job.
    Again it was amusing to read about ones experience with our famous christmas markets.
    It seems you had or still having a great time in germany.
    I like that!
    See you soon on the next Weihnachtsmarkt!

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