Why Europe does Christmas better than us?

BEN GROUNDWATER
Last updated 09:09 24/12/2013
London Christmas
Reuters

XMAS IN EUROPE: Hundreds of revellers dressed in Santa outfits assemble around Trafalgar Square in central London.

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Europeans are still shocked at the things we do for Christmas. They can't get their heads around going to the beach in boardshorts and a Santa hat. They can't picture sitting in the sun on December 25.

They can't gel the ideas of summer holidays and Christmas cheer. The two don't go together. And they certainly don't see seven-odd hours of watching Test cricket as a reasonable use of Boxing Day.

That's our Christmas. That's the kind of thing we like to do. But if you come from the northern half of the world it's just wrong.

And the thing is, those people might be right.

It's cold in Europe at the moment. The temperatures have been steadily dropping as the Christmas decorations have been steadily going up. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

I've been in Seville, Spain, the last month or so and the changes there have been abrupt. It started in mid-November when the area around the city's huge cathedral began its transformation into a Christmas market.

Stall after stall went up, more and more each day, until eventually they all threw their shutter doors open and began selling their wares.

You want nativity figures? They've got nativity figures. Hundreds of them, in fact, thousands, and the crowds had been swelling each day as people came to browse and buy to deck their halls for the holiday season.

Elsewhere throughout the city, the feeling of excitement had been building. It started with the fairy lights strung through the orange trees that lined every avenue; next day trucks appeared heavily laden with banners and decorations.

All of a sudden the narrow streets had wreaths hung and lights attached. The plazas were strung with stars and signs wishing "Feliz Navidad".

One morning a choir and band marched through the city's streets singing Christmas carols and traditional songs.

One evening a huge crowd pushed through the dark alleys with the statue of a saint held above their shoulders like a retiring footballer.

There's a buzz in the air in Europe.

Over in London, the Christmas markets are open. Down by the Thames at Southbank people huddle on park benches under the lights of the London Eye, laughing condensation into the air as they sip their gluhwein and watch the holiday crowds go by.

They're all here for the stalls that sell everything from warm gloves to cold beer.

Some people browse through the stocking-fillers, others eat bratwurst from the German stand, others pose for touristy photos with Big Ben shimmering in the background.

It's Christmas here, you know it without even looking. It's in the bite of cold in the air, in the smell of wood-smoke at night, in the cheer on the faces of commuters and visitors.

The same thing is happening across the continent. In Prague the snow-covered city squares fill each evening with shoppers and revellers. The markets in Munich are just as busy. Same in Paris, and Rome, and Stockholm.

This is Christmas in Europe, and it's something we'll never be able to replicate back home.

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We've come up with our own version, our own traditions, which have a quirky charm to them, but you only have to spend a little time in Europe in December to see Christmas the way it was intended to be.

The cold just works. Christmas should have snow. It should have beanies and gloves and scarves.

It should have hot breath in freezing air. It should have ice-skating rinks and tobogganing hills. In the southern hemisphere we miss out on little Christmas touchstones.

We miss throwing a snowball at a sibling; we miss dad's attempt at building a fire. We miss the humble greatness of a Bridget Jones-style Christmas jumper. I've got a T-shirt that's made to look like one, but it's not the same as having a patterned, woollen monstrosity to call your own.

Don that thing and it's a statement of intent: I don't care what I look like, it's Christmas and it's fun.

Maybe this misty-eyed yearning for cold is a product of childhood Christmases spent abroad. My favourite celebrations as a kid were those spent in England and the United States - those memories might trigger the feeling that this is the way Christmas should be properly spent.

There's still something to be said for the trip to the beach and the day in front of the telly watching cricket. I miss that when I'm away.

But instead there are markets, and snow, and ugly jumpers, and gluhwein. For me, Christmas done right.

Have you experienced Christmas in Europe? How do you think it compares to an our Christmas? Post your comments below.

- FFX Aus

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