Stephen Travels

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The Best Depictions of the Real Meaning of Christmas

The Adoration of the MagiDecember 25 is rapidly approaching, and for 2.2 billion Christians around the world, the Christmas season is in full swing. Although the secular aspects of this important holiday increasingly garner all the attention and overshadow the real meaning of Christmas — the birth of Jesus Christ — all you have to do is look at a Nativity scene (or listen to Linus’ beautiful soliloquy in A Charlie Brown Christmas) to be reminded of what it’s all about. For centuries, artists have been depicting that day that changed the world in Nativities in every type of media imaginable. Some of these painters, sculptors, glaziers, woodworkers, and other talented experts broke the traditional mold of just showing the Holy Family in a stable with some hay, farm animals, a couple of shepherds, and the Three Wise Men. I found these works in particular to be the most imaginative, and most memorable. Read more about my top five Nativities in the world >

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Have Yourself a Merry German Christmas: Day 7

Cologne, GermanyOn my last day, I took an early train to Cologne, my thoughts consumed by Christmas, chocolate, and the cathedral — a trio of delights for all my senses. By the time I left the city about 12 hours later, I had seen the prettiest Christmas market of my entire trip, learned everything there is to know about chocolate (and eaten more of it than anyone should in a day), and explored one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. Read more >


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Have Yourself a Merry German Christmas: Day 6

Heidelberg, GermanyOf the seven cities on my itinerary, Heidelberg was the one I was anticipating the most. From the train station, I walked for about a half-hour on streets that became increasingly more engaging as I made way to the Old Town. Beguiled by its bosky hillside, mountaintop castle, gentle river and graceful bridges, and outstanding architecture, I thrilled at the thought of spending a full day here, rambling through its Christmas markets amid the most romantic setting possible. Read more >


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Have Yourself a Merry German Christmas: Day 5

Dusseldorf, GermanyAs I strolled through one of Düsseldorf’s city parks, beautified by a little river and a couple of lakes, I marked the absence of people. I had arrived on a Sunday morning, and every store was — and would stay — closed for the day. Few pedestrians or joggers utilized the path along the Rhine River. It seemed everyone in the city was staying at home on this overcast day. But all that changed when I reached the first of three increasingly interesting Christmas markets. Read more >


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Have Yourself a Merry German Christmas: Day 4

Stuttgart, GermanyDuring World War II, the Allies dropped 142,000 bombs on Stuttgart, destroying 39,125 buildings. Needless to say, with some sporadic exceptions here and there, it doesn’t have much of an Old Town anymore. I stepped off the train from Frankfurt and emerged from the very sturdy hauptbahnhof onto a newish and heavily congested pedestrian zone: Saturday Christmas shopping was in full gear. But this was just an ordinary shopping area. Once I arrived at the Christmas market, the number of people seemed to have quadrupled. Welcome to one of the largest Christmas markets in Europe. Read more >


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Have Yourself a Merry German Christmas: Day 3

Freiberg, GermanyOf all the cities I was visiting, I knew the least (well, virtually nothing) about Freiburg, but I included it on my itinerary because I read that it had one of the best Christmas markets in Germany. So, with no points of reference and no notions of what the city would be like, I boarded the train to Freiburg. As it would turn out, the markets didn’t seem to exceed any of the others I had seen so far (they were just as delightful), but, oh, how I loved this city. Read more >


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Have Yourself a Merry German Christmas: Day 2

Nuremberg, Germany

Christ Child figures welcome visitors to the Christkindlesmarkt.

Famous for its eponymous trials, a string of military tribunals conducted by the Allied forces after World War II that involved the prosecution of prominent members of the Nazi machine who participated in the Holocaust and other war crimes, Nuremberg always seems to be conjoined with Judgment at, that classic 1961 all-star film with Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland, William Shatner, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, and the Berlin-born Marlene Dietrich. But this 1,000-year-old city boasts so much more than that isolated event, from gorgeous churches to an imperial castle to an outstanding opera house — and Christmas markets that date back to 1628. Read more >