Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike, people enjoy traditions that are both religious and secular in nature. The cheer and festivities associated with Christmas can be experienced far from home. Many of us have been lucky enough to partake in some of these amazing events and celebrations firsthand through our travels, while many of us are still looking to spend the holidays abroad in trips to come. We wanted to take a peek at happenings around the world this holiday season, so we’ve partnered with Gifts.com to learn more about Christmas traditions and celebrations around the world. Members of our community also poured in with recommendations of their favorite things to see and do where they live or in places they’ve visited in December — these are sure to be experiences you’ll never forget!
From Rachelle: “We have lived in a few places at Christmas, and I feel like it’s normally a special time of year because people pause to celebrate. We currently live in London. Our time spent in New York was amazing with the massive tree and the giant nutcrackers on 5th Avenue. The staff at The Dome in Edinburgh do a phenomenal job of dripping every surface in stunning finery. In Sydney, I always loved the trip to the Fish Markets at 5:30am on December 24th to prepare for a proper cold lunch before a beach swim! I love this time of year wherever I am.”
The Bavarian-style village of Leavenworth in the Cascade Mountains of central Washington State is a Christmastime dream. Enjoy log cabin accommodations, restaurants saving German beer and food, The Nutcracker Museum, carolers, sledding, and shops filled to the brim with Christmas decor. The village of Leavenworth is situated nearby to ski areas and wineries as well.
New York City
An amazing place to be during the holiday season, New York City is incredibly diverse and city-dwellers will be buzzing around busy with all sorts of holiday festivities. Check out the Christmas windows on 5th Avenue, go ice skating under the dazzling Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree, and go see the stunning Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Prepare for cold, snowy weather and be sure your family members are well-bundled!
From Brett: “I grew up in San Diego, California. Every Christmas Eve, we go to a historic Victorian hotel called Hotel Del on the island of Coronado near downtown. It’s a super quaint little beach town. They are famous for their two-story Christmas tree, so we check it out and then go ice skating at their rink on the beach in 80 degree weather! …In San Francisco, it’s much colder, in the 50s. There are endless amounts of festivities here, but we like to check out the two-story gingerbread house at the Fairmont Hotel. We bring hot cocoa and cut down our Christmas tree just one hour south of the city, and we also just visited the Dicken’s Festival (experiential theater) set in 1800s Victorian London!”
From Maggie: “We live right by Disneyland in SoCal, so you’ll find awesome decorations, holiday snacks, the very popular Christmas parade and lots more! This is one of the best seasons to be at Disney!”
From Juliet: Trains in Chicago at Christmas time are a big thing! We love seeing Santa on the holiday train — the Chicago El decorated in Holiday regalia complete with “elves” and candy canes. Another cute holiday activity that is always a hit with the kids is seeing the trains at the Lincoln Park Conservatory. For toddlers obsessed with trains, they have a beautifully decorated room booming with trains at this time of year. This activity is FREE and a great way to get the little ones into the holiday spirit while discovering Chicago. At the Museum of Science and Industry, there is also a wonderful display of Christmas trees decorated from around the world. I highly recommend this for traveling kids!”
The capital city of Reykjavik turns into a winter wonderland over the holidays with its Christmas markets. For the children, there is not just one but thirteen Santas, who are known as Yule Lads. One arrives to their homes each night in the thirteen days leading up to Christmas, leaving small gifts in shoes left in window sills.
In England, Christmas traditions are similar to those in the U.S.; but, rather than leaving milk and cookies for Santa Claus, children will set out mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas instead!
Christmas in Paris means glittering holiday window displays every way you look. The City of Light shines especially bright during the holiday season. There are Christmas markets and lights galore. If you are celebrating in France, make sure you get a Buche De Noel, a traditional French Christmas dessert shaped like a fallen tree covered in snow and holly.
If you’re after a very traditional Christmas escape, the Alps is the ultimate “white Christmas” destination. Christmas at this French ski resort, l’Alpe d’Huez can be spent on the slopes (you’ll be one of the few skiers on Christmas day) and bundled up in a cozy chalet with a vin chaud (mulled wine) overlooking the snowy scenery (assuming there’s snow!).
Each city’s Christmas (Christkindl) markets are different. The hallmark though is the hot wine and the gingerbread cookies. Most cities have a children’s market where they can ride rides and write letters to Santa or do crafts. Most towns also have open air ice skating rinks! (Photo below taken at the main market in Cologne.)
From Brett: “Last year we were in Munich visiting family and our favorite experience was hopping around to the various Christmas markets and trying all the festive versions of Christmas drinks. I have made it a must-do this year to have gluhwein (mulled wine) as much as possible this season!”
From Chelsea: “We live in Stuttgart, Germany, so it’s all about the Christmas markets! Our weekends are jam packed seeing the different markets, eating all the delicious food and drinking gluhwine.”
The Italians know how to celebrate the holidays! In Rome, the whole city is lit up; pictured below, the Spanish steps hold a lit Christmas tree. Nativity scenes can be found all over town and everyone heads to midnight mass. Restaurants serve big lunches as all the locals will eat out with friends and family. You need to make your reservations early if you want to join in on the fun.
From Elizabeth: “In the Netherlands and in Belgium, Sinterklaas arrives from Spain to put gifts in the shoes of all the children. He has a magic white horse and helpers (Piet) who deliver the gifts in sacks on December 5th. The country really goes Sinterklaas crazy. You don’t want to miss the sweet treats of oliballen and papernoten (a little cookie given to good children). Good kids will find chocolate letters in their shoes as well.”
From Rocio: “I live in New York City, which is a great place to travel to in December, but we have left and visited Russia, Croatia, Finland, Mexico, and Paris during the holidays. My favorite experience was Russia. Yes, it was cold, but it was absolutely amazing. My husband and I both loved it and can’t wait to go back; we would absolutely visit again in December! We visited Moscow and St. Petersburg and everything was beautiful. It was all you could imagine in a snowy Russia! We went to the Bolshoi and that was spectacular. As it was low season, we got great deals in 5-star hotels and there were no lines when going to the museums. In fact, at one point, we were by ourselves in the Hermitage Museum. We also visited the house of Dostoyevsky. The restaurants were amazing, elegant, and simply beautiful.”
From Rachel: “I was in Bethlehem, West Bank, at Christmas a few years ago. It was so refreshing to see lines of quiet pilgrims — a big contrast to the shopping focus here in the United States. The weather was freezing though!”
While Americans celebrate with Christmas trees, visits from Santa Claus, and dreams of snowy landscapes, Christmas falls during Australia’s summer season. During this time of festivity, they are experiencing very hot weather, so it is popular to go camping or to the beach. Some Australians will decorate a “Christmas Bush,” which is a native tree with small green leaves and flowers that turn red during the summer.
From Keshala: “We live in New Zealand and are going home to Sydney for Christmas. We are hitting up a few Christmas festivals. Most of the wintery festivals that make me feel like I am in Europe are ticketed events, but it is SO HOT, no matter how much fake snow blows on your face. It is fun having a hot christmas every now and then in the bush, however.”
Will you be decorating a tree, eating mince pies, exchanging gifts or enjoying a nice dinner with family? Wherever you are traveling to this holiday season… eat, drink and be merry! Share your pictures with us on social media, be sure to mention us @bebe.voyage and use our hashtag #bebevoyage!
And if you’re still shopping for the perfect gift for your globetrotting friends and family, check out these travel-related gifts we love: Personalized Luxury Tour Bag, Travel Family Ornament, and the Travel Destination Maps.