The Advent countdown to Christmas Eve is already past its halfway point. Christmas lights have flooded the cities and the spirit of Christmas has surely caught many of us. In the shops, however, all sorts of promotions and Christmas decorations are popping up, and they have been on sale there since the beginning of November. Undoubtedly, this is the best time of the year for Christmas enthusiasts. Whether you’re one of them or not, you won’t have missed the city streets lit up as you head home in the early hours of darkness. The streets are a glow with different colours and calling everyone to take a bite out of the advent spirit.

I confess that the spirit of Christmas caught me too. But not because of the constant offers and promotions from all kinds of sellers. In recent years, we can notice that Christmas and the Advent season is getting more and more media coverage. However, it is being publicised for marketing purposes. That is to say, the supermarket chains try to convince us with all sorts of, often useless, goods that we definitely need this to have a nice Christmas. Ultimately, they are just making money out of people buying more and more things that they don’t actually need. The things we buy in the Christmas rush often end up in rubbish bins after the New Year and just create a lot of unnecessary waste. I will not, at this time, dwell on the climate problems that excess waste causes. The role of the media at Christmas should be to reassure people so that they are not stressed about forgetting to buy something and, above all, so that they do not buy presents that they cannot afford at the moment. Some people need to be reminded that Christmas is not about presents but about spending time together with loved ones. In peace and with a smile on their lips. 

All the historic squares in Europe are now home to wonderful Advent markets, which, as well as selling local, homemade products, offer a rich programme that is free of charge. And of course, they offer a variety of delicious specialities in the form of hot food and drinks. Their selection varies depending on what country you are in and what their own specialities are. I personally tried some foreign ones this year. As a tourist from Slovakia, this year I had the opportunity to experience Advent and Christmas markets in the Croatian cities of Zagreb, Varaždin and Koprivnica. 

Unlike in Slovakia, where the Christmas markets started on 24. 11., here in Croatia they were officially opened on first or second of December. Although they started a week later here, they will last until the seventh of January. There are more Orthodox Christians in Croatia than in Slovakia, and in order to allow these believers to also experience the Christmas atmosphere until their Christmas Eve, the Christmas markets here last two weeks longer. In Slovakia, specifically in Trnava, stall sales end on the 22nd of December. 

I spent the first weekend of Advent in Zagreb. The Christmas market was officially opened on 2. 12., but already on Friday there were many people strolling by the stalls and tasting hot punch, mulled wine, fritule and various other delicacies. It was pleasant and especially joyful to stroll around the beautiful historical centre of Zagreb which was really magnificent under a lot of sparkling Christmas lights. Families with children, groups of friends and many tourists wandered between the fragrant stalls that stretched from the main railway station to the main square. Many people stopped by the big decorations and posed with them in order to have the best possible photo as a souvenir. Everything took place and still takes place to the accompaniment of Christmas and non-Christmas music, which can be heard from the loudspeakers or directly from the stage where the program of the Christmas markets takes place.

Those who enter the markets in Zagreb from the Main Railway Station will be enchanted by the huge outdoor skating rink right at the beginning of the park. But not just ordinary rectangular ones. Although this rink consists of a classic rectangular shape with rounded corners, it is also connected to other ice paths. That way you can skate around the entire circumference of the first part of the park. Around the fountain, under the trees and you can choose which path you want to skate on. A similar rink with paths is also located in Varaždin. For me as a tourist, it was a very pleasant surprise how Croatians adore skating. It doesn’t matter if you are in the capital or in a small town near the border. Each of them has its own ice rink, which definitely has no shortage of skaters. In Slovakia, we have an outdoor Christmas rink only in the capital, Bratislava. For the last five years or so, they have been trying to promote the ice rink in my hometown in Trnava, but it is definitely not as successful as here in Croatia. More or less because in Trnava it is not a real ice but some special kind of plastic. 

An interesting tourist attraction, this time in Varaždin, is a ferris wheel, in addition to an ice rink and an ice slide. As I learned, this is not the first year here. I admit that the sight of the city skyline illuminated by thousands of Christmas lights is truly unforgettable. However, the Ferris wheel has its premiere in Trnava as well and it seems that it is very popular there as well. Perhaps the only thing I miss here in Varaždin are stalls with handmade products from local producers. There are very few stalls with carved products for the kitchen, woven baskets, hand-sewn leather products, crochet products or various other home-made products. They do sell local products here, but I have a feeling that there are more, and more diverse ones in Slovak cities. So, if you are one of the enthusiasts who go to soak up the Christmas atmosphere at the Christmas markets, I would recommend you make trips to other cities or countries with your friends. See and experience Advent from a new perspective. After all, who said that you should only go on vacation in summer? 

Izvor slika: Nora Čechová/Privatna arhiva