Coming into this year, one of the things that excited me most about living abroad was getting to experience holidays from a non-American worldview. Ireland certainly did not disappoint. Christmas markets play a huge role in the holiday season in Continental Europe, and the city of Galway brings a bit of the festivities to Eyre Square every December. It seemed like the entire city converged on the Square to celebrate the opening of the Galway Continental Christmas Market. Even the Taoiseach made an appearance at the tree lighting ceremony.
Decorations lit Shop Street, guiding pedestrians to the market, while a huge windmill, carousel, and smells of smoked sausage, hot chocolate, and fresh chimney cakes welcomed visitors. The Paulaner tent became my class’s social spot for the month, with hourly group renditions The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” serving as the season’s soundtrack.
Fortunately, I have wonderful classmates who have helped damped any homesickness I might have. The late-night football watching or ice skating sessions with them have made me feel like a true member of the community. But the holiday season has a way of making you miss your friends and family back home. Fortunately, my parents decided to make their first trip outside of the U.S. to visit this Christmas. After a brief stay in Dublin, we flew to Vienna and Budapest to get a firsthand experience of Christmas on the mainland.
Central European Christmas markets certainly do not disappoint. Craft vendors, food carts, and musicians fill entire city blocks and cathedral common areas. By far, the most difficult aspect of visiting one of the enormous markets was deciding whether I wanted a käsekrainer or goulash and trying to remind myself to save room for apple strudel or kürtőskalács. Aside from the markets, we had a wonderful time visiting Schonbrunn Palace, riding Das Wiener Risenrad, getting a bird’s eye view of the city from the towers of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and cruising along the Danube River.
After getting our fill of Central Europe and watching my father try to understand the conversion rate between U.S. Dollars and Hungarian Forint, we made our way back to Galway, where gale-force winds and torrential downpours helped us ring in the holiday season. Everything shuts down in Ireland from Christmas to St. Stephen’s Day, so we stocked up on food and made our own homemade Christmas dinner at my apartment. Sarah and Marian made the trip from Belfast to celebrate with us, giving us a quality Christmas with my traditional family and my new Mitchell family. Granted, the combination of Christmas market food and my mom’s dinner completely wrecked any progress I managed to make at the gym this semester, but at the end of the day, I’d consider it a successful holiday.