Thanksgiving can be a bit hard for first year students in Europe. It’s just like any other day with classes and student sometimes are a bit homesick by this time. Many American students gather with other international students and school staff to celebrate holidays from home that aren’t recognized by their school country. Some international student offices even arrange such celebrations. When my kids go to college in Europe, I plan to fly over and spend time over Thanksgiving weekend together-either in the town of their school or a quick nearby getaway. Fortunately, Christmas break is right around the corner and most American students do go home for the break, since schools have at least a two week break around this time.
Students can benefit from experiencing different holidays and festival traditions that they would not otherwise be exposed to. Travel expert Rick Steves has an extensive list of holidays and festivals by country. Here are a few of our favorites.
Christmas in Europe centers on an Advent market that, in most cases, has filled the square before the cathedral each December for hundreds of years. Many markets start on the Friday before Advent, which is four Sundays before Christmas Eve; most end on December 24, especially in Germanic countries, where Christmas Eve is set aside for trimming the tree at home. Here’s a really great article to help identify the best ones from our friends at Dispatches Europe.
If you’re having trouble getting in the yuletide spirit or you’re not the shopping type, there’s always the legendary Christmas Beer Festival in Essen, Belgium. This festival features 178 different beers, including some of the best beers in the world, in a celebration of the diversity of Belgian beer culture.
According to Wikipedia, “Carnival is a pre-Lent season of festivities Carnival typically involves a public celebration and/or parade combining some elements of a circus, masks, and a public street party.” Carnival is celebrated in New Orleans as Mardi Gras. You may have already heard of Carnival in Venice with its masks and elaborate costumes. Venice is perfectly nice, but if you’re looking for a similar festival with a less touristy vibe, check out Croatia. Established in 1982, Rijeka, Croatia holds the country’s largest carnival festival of parades and costumes. the 2017 Carnival runs from January 17 until March 1, so there’s ample opportunity to check this out on a break or as a weekend trip.
In Sweden, Midsummer’s Eve is one of the most important days of the year, rivaling Christmas with its festive spirit and traditions. Traditionally, Midsummer was celebrated on June 24, the feast day of St. John the Baptist, but the holiday has its roots in a pre-Christian summer solstice festival. In 1952, the Swedish Parliament decided that Midsummer should always be celebrated on a weekend. As a result, the observance of Midsummer now varies between June 20 and 26. Midsummer Eve activities include folk dancing in traditional costumes around the Maypole and games for all ages. At some point, festival goers enjoy a meal of herring with new potatoes and a glass of schnapps.
There are many pride festivals across Europe. The biggest one in Central/Eastern Europe, Prague Pride, happens in August in the capitol of the Czech Republic. 40,000 people gathered together to celebrate equal right to love. Although they sometimes look like carnivals, gay pride parades are an opportunity to show that all citizens should have the same rights in our society. The 2016 edition of Prague Pride included a memorial service for the victims of the Orlando, Florida, night club massacre where 49 people were killed at a gay night club.