Christmas is almost upon us and many people are already thinking and planning on where to go for a Christmas holiday and we’ve got some suggestions for you. The observance and traditions associated with Christmas are many. Santa Claus first made an appearance in the 4th century in the person of generous Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, Turkey, who’s quite fond of children. His fame reached many shores. In Holland his name became Sint Nikolaas and later turned into Sinterklaas who placed treats into the wooden shoes of children. The tradition was brought to America in the 17th century, with the name evolving into Santa Claus. Germany started decorating fig trees in the 16th century with colored paper, candies, roses and apples. Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, brought the Christmas tree from his native Germany to England. German immigrants brought it to America in the 19th century. From then on the practice became popular worldwide. Likewise, there are fascinating stories behind some of the things associated with Christmas, including the Christmas stockings, mistletoe, holly, poinsettias, candy canes, Christmas cards, and even the red-nosed reindeer, Rudolph. And so, here are a few suggestions on where you can go for a Christmas holiday. Just remember to book your flights and accommodation early to avoid the rush that’s inevitable during this holiday season.
Santa Claus Village, Finland
Rovaniemi is where Santa Claus Village is located and where Santa and his elves live. It’s a magical place especially during the holiday season, with the opening celebrations happening around late November, when Santa and his helpers will personally greet visitors. Amid Christmas carols and fireworks the Santa Claus Office will be declared open. The village is a picture-perfect image of a wintry Christmas scene used in many greeting cards of old. Tour packages include crossing the Arctic Circle and a certificate to mark your crossing. Santa Claus personally greets visitors and have photos with him. You’ll have meals at the village and shop for souvenirs. Sightseeing is included, with a few hours spent dog sledding with huskies, day trip to the Ranua Zoo, visiting a reindeer farm and going on a reindeer sledge ride. If weather conditions permit, you can search for the Northern Lights.
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New York City, U.S.A.
New York City is alive any time of the year but more so during the holidays, with a slew of activities for every age. The 80-foot Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Centre is usually decorated with about 30,000 lights in different colours. There’s ice skating at Bryant Park and about 125 shops open at the park’s Winter Village. Big department stores vie against each other for the best holiday themed décor while Radio City Music Hall puts up another Christmas performance by the 36 Rockettes. The Empire State Building rocks it in green and red lights and the Chelsea Market presents a wide selection of delicious food. Lincoln Centre will often have ballet performances and children and adults will again flock to FAO Schwarz for gadgets, toys, dolls, life-sized stuffed animals and plenty of candies.
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Bondi Beach, Australia
With Australia celebrating Christmas during its summer season, the people’s first option is to hit the beach, and Sydneysiders and others flock to Bondi Beach. There’s band performances, DJs spinning song after song, families putting up barbecues and everyone comes to dinner with sunhat, sunscreen and bathing suits. The Christmas celebration may be a bit different because of the weather, but it is still a very fun and festive occasion, with lifeguards enlivening the beach with a Christmas tree decorated with miniature kangaroos and flip flops.
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Midnight Mass, The Vatican, Italy
Italy celebrates several holidays and one of the bigger ones is Christmas at the Vatican. The Midnight Mass is something to behold, as there is this permeating atmosphere of peace and brotherhood that envelopes St Peter’s Square as the Pope celebrates the traditional Christmas Eve mass. It does not matter whether you are a Catholic or a follower of another religion. Being present during this time at St Peter’s Square is a wondrous experience. The square is spruced up with lights that stay lit until the morning. A life-sized nativity scene is put up and on Christmas morning, the Pope gives his annual Christmas address from his balcony. If you want to be inside the St Peter’s Basilica for the evening mass, be sure to book tickets months in advance.
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Catholics in Ireland know how to have fun and enjoy Christmas to the hilt. Dubliners have a great sense of humour, and have come up with novel ways to celebrate the holiday. The main highlight of their celebration is the Christmas morning swim at the open-air Forty-Foot sea-water pool, which is a show of endurance. The lead up to the Christmas Day are various activities, including the 12 Days of Christmas Market at the Docklands, pantomimes, ice skating, Christmas lights everywhere and more than the usual amount of people in the Temple Bar. Beautiful carols could be heard from the St Patrick’s Cathedral.
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Nuremberg is famous for its Christmas Market at the Old Town, which is a tradition that started in the 15th century. Nuremberg is called the Christmas City and indeed it puts up an extravagant affair year after year with handmade items, munificent decorations, plenty of good food (especially gingerbread and mulled wine) and not to forget, the female angel who’s called Christkind, who is tasked with various activities, including leading 1,000 children in the lantern procession around the square. It’s opened on the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent. And you know what to do at a Christmas Market, right? By the way, there are about 180 stalls participating in the annual market, so make a shopping list and get your wallets ready.
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Zurich is another city that puts on its Christmas cloak in December, when the city smells of mulled wine, cinnamon, baked goods and plenty of chocolates in all shapes and sizes, gaily wrapped in Christmas colors. The sounds of Christmas carols are in the background wherever you go, with the entire city bathed in the warm and twinkling glow of thousands of Christmas lights. There are plenty of options to shop and activities galore, including the Advent concerts and the Lichterschwimmen candle-floating event. At Werdmuhleplatz is a singing tree, while on a tiered stage, local children sing Christmas carols.
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Tokyo is generally non-Christian but it still celebrates Christmas with aplomb, with the city ablaze with glowing Christmas lights and stores display season-themed décor. Tama Centre usually puts up a 15-metre high Christmas tree, and the ever busy Ginza, gets even busier as shoppers look for the perfect Christmas gifts. It could be said that Christmas decorations in Tokyo are over the top, but this does not faze them, with the city getting jam packed with people on Christmas Eve – meeting friends, shopping, dating and more – it’s like Valentine’s Day with all the evening’s frenzy. While most people particularly in the West share a traditional Christmas dinner, for the residents of Tokyo, it’s picking up their long-reserved order of Kentucky Fried Chicken, with sponge cake with cream and strawberries on top for dessert.
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San Juan, Puerto Rico
The small island of San Juan in Puerto Rico observes traditional ways of celebrating Christmas, which start in the early part of December until January 6, the Feast of the Three Kings. Dawn masses are conducted for two weeks before Christmas, with carolers serenading their friends at their houses after the mass. Families usually share a big feast, probably with spit-roasted pig on Christmas Eve before they go to the Midnight Mass. The Paseo de la Princesa promenade and the City Hall will be resplendent in creatively displayed fairy lights.