Although there’s no place like home for the holidays, for those who want to add the fun of travel to the festive excitement, Ankita Mamgain lists a few destinations where Christmas celebrations extend beyond the usual.
Though it is perhaps the most magical time of the year, travel plans during Christmas can be stressful, chaotic and expensive. The obvious options of New York, Paris and London all are well armed to welcome yuletide revellers from across the world. But the sheer influx of tourists in these cities at this time of the year renders them notoriously busy and borderline frustrating. So why not head to a destination that keeps the authenticity of the holidays intact, and provides you a much deserved break, so you can truly relish the essence of Christmas?
Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland
Santa may visit your home once a year, but here’s your chance to visit his. According to some legends, dating as far back as the 1820s, the North Pole is the official address of Santa Claus, but the Finns would have you believe otherwise. Located just north of the Artic circle, Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, is considered home to Father Christmas. Celebrate the quintessential northern holiday with your family with a host of sites and activities dedicated to the festival.
You must attend The Christmas Fantasy; an exotic experience, in which you are guided by elves to the Great Festival hall in the Arctic forest. Mischievous witches and playful elves are out and about and snowflakes, floating in the winter breeze, make this experience even more magical. You can even enrol in Elf School or take a calligraphy class and compose your own Christmas wish list with a traditional quill.
Other attractions include the Ranua Zoo, home to baby polar bears, wolverines and moose. At Sirmakko Reindeer Farm, you can take a sled-led reindeer safari and the wonderful Arktikum museum is the perfect introduction to the mysteries of these latitudes and the northern lights. Those in search of a truly frosty experience can stay in the Arctic Snow Hotel, made entirely of snow and ice, but equipped with saunas and hot tubs in which to thaw.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
In this colourful Mexican city Christmas is both a solemn and celebratory affair filled with ‘Piñatas, posadas and ponche’. In the lead up to the festival, you’re likely to stumble upon Mary and Joseph strolling the streets, as locals make pilgrimages from home to home singing songs as they re-enact the journey to Bethlehem.
‘Noche Buena’ or Christmas Eve is actually more important to Mexicans than Christmas Day. A life-size manger is set up in the main city garden in front of the church. The last procession of the season passes by in early evening after which everyone prepares to party. And like any good Mexican party it goes on all night replete with lip-smacking food, piñatas and mulled fruit drink called ponche.
Enjoy a long evening of non-stop celebration around the cobblestone city that also enjoys UNESCO World Heritage Site status for its beautiful churches, well-preserved architecture and grand plazas.
On the 25th, after family and church, it’s time for promenading through the streets. The day is also celebrated as the Day of Holy Innocents as Mexicans play elaborate practical jokes on each other. If you fall for one, you’ll hear the cry of “Inocente! Inocente!”.
This Mediterranean jewel offers one of the most inimitable nativity experiences during the holidays that can often include grazing live animals. The 12 days of Christmas in Malta are a wonderful mix of zesty merrymaking and age-old traditions preserved by its strong Roman Catholic community. This is the busiest and most merry time of the year for the Maltese capital of Valletta. Its beautifully lit streets with carols echoing in the background, shops dressed to their best and activities in abundance, extend a warm and festive welcome. Special highlight for kids include Santa’s Toy Town at Popeye’s Village and a number of pantomime productions across the town that enthral young ones and adults alike.
Bethlehem Inn or Bethlehem f’Ghajnsielem, located on the nearby island of Gozo, hosts a month-long nativity enactment that takes you back 2,000 years. Be part of the scene by renting a room that comes with period costumes in the village. On Christmas Eve, join a massive parade as throngs of people walk behind a life-sized figure of the Infant Jesus. After the midnight mass, delivered traditionally by a child and not a priest, you can head to any of the world-class hotels, for a 1am breakfast.