A New Perspective on Thanksgiving

“Do you like Thanksgiving?” a co-worker asked recently, after admitting that she wasn’t too fond of the holiday.

I was taken aback at first. I didn’t think that Thanksgiving needed to be defended. What’s not to like about an excuse to gather together and eat wonderful seasonal one-offs like sweet potato casserole and pecan pie, and, being a conversation set in America - get one (and often two) whole days off?? 

But as I headed home, I reflected and realized that while I’ve always enjoyed Thanksgiving as an opportunity to spend time with my family, I never loved it until I moved to France.

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A White Christmas in Seefeld, Austria

Bon lundi!

Hope you all had a wonderful start to 2015! 

While traveling, have you ever wished you could share the experience with a loved one who wasn't there with you?  Somewhere you knew would just be perfect for them?  That was one of the things that crossed my mind last year as Michael and I traveled through Germany and Seefeld, Austria for an annual trip we've called Christmaspalooza - and this year, I got to fulfill the wish by having my parents and brother visit for some Christmas Markets and cross-country skiing.

When we arrived, Seefeld looked like this. Still quaint and magical, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit disappointed that it wasn't covered by a blanket of snow. I mean, we confirmed with the cross-country skiing school that there would be enough snow on the ground for us to take our classes because we were uncertain.

Sunset at Seefeld's Christmas market

But then a Christmas surprise happened. Christmas Day and each day after it snowed and snowed, and turned Seefeld into the winter wonderland I fell in love with the previous year. And like the time before, it felt too soon to leave when the check-out date arrived.

Dashing through the snow, Seefeld-style

Though my brother had to head home, my parents joined us to visit our German relatives for an evening and then continued on to Paris to ring in the new year.  So now that I'm back and settled, I have lots to share once again :-)

What did you do for the holidays and New Year's?

Simply Sara's Ultimate European Christmas Market Round-Up

I’ve been making a list and checking it twice...and am ready to reveal which European Christmas markets made the naughty or nice list. This by no means is a conclusive list of markets throughout Europe, but it’s my thoughts on 20 markets spanning 8 European countries. So without further ado, here’s the breakdown by country:

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Christmas Market Count-down

Bon lundi!

Everyone has a favorite Christmas season tradition.  Growing up, my favorites were baking cookies and decorating the tree, while my husband's was putting the lights on the house.  As much as I love to deck the halls, I must admit that I only started decorating my Parisian apartment yesterday, so it's finally beginning to feel like Christmas is ten days away.

This week I can't wait to share my new favorite holiday tradition with you: going to European Christmas markets! Get ready for my round-up of the markets I've been to, and how they all stack up. Stay tuned this week.

Christmas in Cologne, Germany - this market had a giant Santa! 

Do you have a Christmas tradition that you learned from another culture?

Simply Sara's European Christmas Market How-To

I have always loved celebrating the Christmas season, and moving to Europe has introduced me to an absolutely wonderful tradition: the Christmas market. For the past two seasons my husband and I have traveled to many European cities during December to experience the burst of holiday cheer and have been anything but disappointed in our findings. 

If you’re off to a European Christmas market, here are 13 tips we've learned firsthand!

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Paris Department Store Christmas Displays

I have a confession to make.

Every year I hold out, hard as it may be, to refrain from listening to Christmas music non-stop until after Thanksgiving. I don’t like to rush through Thanksgiving, and I try my best to savor each holiday as they come. (I once snapped at Michael and proclaimed he was “ruining Christmas” by playing holiday tunes in July. It’s serious.)

So while I can still say in good conscience that I haven’t blasted my Mariah Carey Merry Christmas album just yet, I do have to come clean. I saw the Christmas displays the week they went up (first week of November) at Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. It felt a little wrong and it wasn’t even very cold out, but I couldn’t contain my excitement. It all worked out though in the end - despite this little excursion, I didn’t ruin Thanksgiving :-)

I patiently refrained from sharing these pictures with you until after Thanksgiving was celebrated in the States, lest any of you felt adamant about focusing on the holiday at hand. So without further ado, let’s walk along Boulevard Haussmann together.

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How to Plan an Expat Thanksgiving in 9 Steps

Signing your first apartment lease. Starting your first job. Moving out. Paying bills. There are many moments both big and small that seal a badge of becoming a “real adult.”

Moving to Paris has given me the opportunity to reach another “adulthood” milestone: hosting a holiday. Now for the third year, I can say that Thanksgiving is my holiday. Each year I get the honor of gathering my Parisian family in my home to celebrate this wonderful American holiday. Want to know how I do it?

Here’s how to plan an expat Thanksgiving:

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La Toussaint at Cimetière du Montparnasse

As you might have already guessed, Halloween isn’t really a big thing over here in France. You can find a few pumpkin decorations in stores (mainly in chocolate shops) and a few costume parties but it’s nothing to the extent in the US.

I've been told that Halloween did have a few years of popularity in France, but it was followed by a backlash that squelched the holiday. Some say it’s because it was deemed to be “too American.” And I’ve heard others say it’s because it interfered with the French holiday that occurs the very next day on November 1st: La Toussaint (All Saints’ Day).

The truth is probably a mix of both, but I can attest that it is possible to attend an epic Halloween party one night and still crawl out of bed to make it to the cemetery the next day. (And whoever says that French people don’t get into dressing up for Halloween have not seen the level of detail and intricacy of the costumes I saw - they all upstaged me! But that’s for another time…) Why the cemetery? Because La Toussaint is a day to visit the graves of relatives and pay respects.

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Bastille Day 2014 Fireworks Show

July 14th marks la fête nationale for France and as you might imagine, the celebrations in Paris are elaborate. And although I didn't make it out to a Firemen's ball (more on what that is in my previous post) and only saw the military parade via the TV, there is one event I wouldn't miss for anything. That, of course, would be the fireworks show.

The last two years have taught me that a spectacle of this nature isn't one to just show up to at the last minute, and certainly not an event to make haphazard plans to meet up with friends. No, this year we sent out a Google map to friends with a small shaded area indicating where one might find our picnic blanket, and arrived just before 6pm to stake out a spot. (Note: The fireworks don't start until 11pm, when it finally gets dark.)

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How to Celebrate Bastille Day 2014 in Paris

July 14th is La Fête Nationale for France, an important national holiday. In English we refer to it as Bastille Day because it commemorates the storming of the Bastille (and thus the beginning of the French Revolution). If you're lucky enough to be in Paris for this holiday, you have many great options to celebrate some liberté, égalité, and fraternité!

Here's how to join in the celebrations and make the most of being in Paris on Bastille Day:

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A Week Away from Bastille Day!

Bon lundi!

Paris is wonderful in the summer with its warm, (mostly) sunny weather and hours upon hours of sunlight. And while Parisians leave the city in a mass exodus for the summer vacances, there are two days that I look forward to spending particularly in Paris: Fête de la Musique and Bastille Day.

The magic of Bastille Day to me is watching a gorgeous fireworks show (set to music, no less) on the grass of the Champs de Mars, in front of the Eiffel Tower. This week I'll share how you can celebrate La Fête Nationale, or the commonly used name, Le quatorze juillet, if you are in Paris for it. Get ready to celebrate! 

View of the Bastille Day fireworks from the Champs de Mars, 2013

Vive la France! 

Fête de la Musique

June 21st is one of my favorite days in Paris. Not only is it the first day of summer and the longest day of the year, but it is celebrated well in Paris. That's because June 21st each year is the Fête de la Musique. This music festival is a national celebration in France (and has spread to numerous other countries) where all musicians, professionals and amateurs alike, are encouraged to perform.

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