Through Jan. 29, the Phantasialand amusement park hosts its beautifully decorated “Winter Dream.”

Through Jan. 29, the Phantasialand amusement park hosts its beautifully decorated “Winter Dream.” (Phantasialand )

A span of time unlike no other, German speakers have a special term for it. “Zwischen den Jahren,” or between the years, refers to the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. For many, it’s a time to unwind, reflect and regroup, but with the kids off from school, and many adults as well, spending time at home together for days on end can lead to cabin fever. Luckily, diversions in the form of outdoor activities, shows and holiday-themed events offer the impetus for day trips or short breaks outside one’s own four walls.

Christmas markets and villages

While most of Germany’s Christmas markets shut down as of Dec. 24, a few reopen their doors post-Christmas to spread their own special brand of cheer into the New Year. In some cities, the chalets selling gifts and souvenirs disappear while food and drink vendors keep the bratwurst sizzling and the glühwein flowing. Christmas markets remaining open into January include those in Speyer and Baden-Baden. In Wiesbaden, the holiday market on Luisenplatz welcomes visitors from noon-7 p.m. Dec. 26 and from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Dec. 27-30. Kaiserslautern’s so-called “Silvestermarkt” takes place downtown from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily Dec. 27-30.

The Wallonian city of Liège is the site of Belgium’s biggest Christmas village, a merry extravaganza organized along the lines of a town from times long past. Visitors can peruse various neighborhoods formed by vendors’ stalls, visit a church and its nativity scene, take a turn on the ice rink or toboggan run, or sample regional specialties. The “Village de Noël de Liège” remains open through Dec. 30. Online:

The city of Colmar in France’s Alsace region charms year round, but never more so than during the holidays, when six different markets set up shop amongst its ancient, half-timbered buildings. These markets remain open daily through Dec. 29. Online:

Holiday-themed shows and theater

In addition to the many circuses that take place this time of year, larger cities host productions of traditional family favorites. International Festival Ballet presents its version of Tschaikovsky’s The Nutcracker in Munich Dec. 26-27 and in Stuttgart Dec. 30. “Abba Gold-The Concert Show” brings the hit music of past decades to stages in Wiesbaden (Dec. 26), Koblenz (Dec. 27) and Saarbrücken (Dec. 29). For more inspiration, see online.

Those calling the U.K. home can enjoy a uniquely British form of entertainment during the holiday season. A pantomime is a dramatic production starring campy versions of fairy-tale characters in new tellings of old tales. The joy of a pantomime is the way in which the audience gets involved, singing along and shouting characters words of advice that’s bound to go unheeded. The Cambridge Arts Theatre presents Dick Wittington and his Cat through Jan. 8; KD Theatre in The Maltings, Ely serves up Cinderella through Jan. 2; Peter Pan plays at The Cresset in Peterborough through Dec. 31. For more options, see

Winter festivals

Tollwood is an annual winter festival spreading its seasonal magic across Munich’s Theresienwiese. In addition to the circus and acrobatics show beneath the big top, visitors can enjoy a food plaza with dishes from around the world, a curling rink, glittering sculptures, fire shows, live music and general merriment around the witch’s cauldron. Entry to the grounds is free. Online:

“Christmas Magic” is the holiday offering of the town of Triberg in the Black Forest. From Dec. 26-30, Germany’s highest waterfall is festooned with lights and entertainment is laid on by musicians, jugglers, musicians and other artists. In its Wonderland zone, kids can meet fairy tale characters and watch puppets and trail biking demos. At 9 p.m. each night between Dec. 27 and 30, the day’s activities will be brought to a close with an impressive display of fireworks. Advance tickets bought online cost 20 euros adults and 16 euros for children; those ages eight and under enter for free. Online:

Amusement parks

The Phantasialand amusement park in Brühl, Germany, combines thrills and holiday cheer with its “Winter Dream” seasonal opening. Through Jan. 29, visitors can enjoy the prettily decorated park and its sea of sparkling lights, along with shows and tasty treats. Riding the attractions in the dark of night is an experience of another kind. The park is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. most days; adult admission costs 57 euros Dec. 26-30. Online:

Europa Park in Rust, Germany offers a similar “Winter Magic” experience. Through Jan. 8, the festively decorated park offers a Christmas village, 3D projections, campfires and shows, along with a handful of attractions to ride. The park is open from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. most days. Entry costs 55 euros adults, 47 euros for those ages 4-11, and is free for ages three and under. Online:

Drink in winter cheer

While there’s no great translation for the word "Feuerzangenbowle,” one only need know that this powerful concoction made up of hot red wine, spices, citrus peels and rum is a true Nuremberg original. The Franconian city is also home to the world’s largest cauldron bubbling with the potent tipple, which remains available for sampling at its location at An der Fleischbrücke through New Year’s Day. Online:

Get those skates on

Many of those seasonal skating rinks that make up part and parcel of Christmas markets haven’t broken up their ice just yet. For active outings against beautiful backdrops, consider the rinks in Heidelberg (through Jan. 4) or Wiesbaden’s Louisenplatz (through Jan. 8). The rink in front of the Town Hall in Weiden, made of artificial ice, enjoys its final days of the season Dec. 27-Jan. 1. In Stuttgart, sporty types can enjoy roller skating on the Schlossplatz daily through Jan. 8.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now