Have you ever spent Christmas abroad? Would you? Or do you prefer the home comforts at Christmas time? I fall into that last category, and firmly believe that Christmas is turkey, telly, family, Christmas songs, walks in the country, and Boxing Day football.
But even I am more than a little intrigued by what a Christmas abroad entails, so I’ve taken a look at 7 destinations for an alternative Christmas where they do things a little differently – and so could you.
I said before that Christmas should be cold. You’ll have no trouble with that in Iceland. Not only is it cold, but it’s dark for most of the time too. But you’ll happily trade daylight for the stunning Northern Lights, and you’ll be amongst friendly people enjoying Christmas in one of the most festive ways possible.
There is one odd tradition to look out for, and that’s the Yule Lads – figures from Icelandic folklore – which traditionally put rewards or punishments – ranging from gifts or rotting vegetables – into shoes left by kids in their windowsills. The Yule Lads used to be pretty scary for the kids, these days less so. Something to ask the locals about though!
New York, USA
There’s something very magical about Christmas in New York. Everyone’s seen Miracle on 34th Street, and though it’s not quite the utopia it’s painted as in the movies – sorry about that – it’s still a darn special place to be. It all begins when Thanksgiving ends, with Santa’s appearance at the climax of the Macy’s Parade in New York, and continues as the lights get switched on across the city.
We’ve picked Germany for the scale of its Christmas markets – though there are impressive markets and a similar vibe in cities all over Europe, places like Prague and Amsterdam. But the biggest and best are found in Germany, and it’s difficult not to get swept up in it all. As well as the festive tastes – mulled wine and the like – you can enjoy the sound of brass bands playing Christmas songs, activities like ice rinks and just a really joyous atmosphere.
Australia appears in our list as it’s a completely different way of doing Christmas. There’s something decidedly odd about going to the beach or having a barbeque on Christmas Day, and we can promise you won’t be pining for good ol’ roast turkey. But it’s still Christmas, there’s still Father Christmas, lights up everywhere and wreathes on the front door. Just replace reindeer with kangaroos, and you’re getting closer!
Christmas on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts is party time! The bit between Christmas and New Year is known as The Christmas Sports – this is a (nearly) week long series of carnivals; African inspired, dance and drum infused celebrations. One of the most eagerly awaited dances is the Wild Mas – based on a traditional call-and-response theme; the captain calls and his troupe responds. This is just one of the Christmas Sports – there are all manner of other dances, from the acrobatic to the more relaxed, plus street performances, music and strong-man style acts.
Want to spend Christmas abroad, but don’t want to go too far? Paris could be a good bet. I was there in the run up to Christmas a few years back, and the Champs-Elysees is a festive delight, with street markets, spectacular decorations and a good atmosphere. Take part in ice skating at Hotel de Ville, see the massive tree and nativity story told though the medium of sound and light at the stunning Notre Dame Cathedral, and cross your fingers for some snow to top it all off!
The surroundings may be different from what you’re used to – just a bit! – but at the heart of Christmas in Rio are the family get togethers and present giving that we’re all familiar with. What you do get with a Rio Christmas are a number or interesting festivals and exhibitions – not least the Festival de Presépios, where you can see the world’s biggest full size nativity scene. The Bradesco Seguros Christmas tree (again, the biggest of its kind in the world) is worth a look, and as for Christmas Day on Copacabana beach, well, it’s got to be done really, hasn’t it! Look out for the Christmas Day concert on the beach – attended by 1.5 million people and having featured artists like Gilberto Gil and Stevie Wonder in the past.
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