Updated: Sep 5, 2022
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For those who celebrate, Christmas is a time for family. Everyone has their own tradition - mine is running from house to house to visit all the people I love. For devout travelers, Christmas can be a time to check out celebrations from around the world. From holiday themed events to streets laden with decorations, it might be worth it to break the norm and experience the holiday in other cities. These are the ones you should consider if the idea has crossed your mind.
The Vatican City
For Catholics, I can’t imagine a better place to celebrate Christmas than in the holy city. The midnight mass, which actually takes place at 9:15 p.m. on Christmas Eve, is a mass led by the current pope in St. Peter’s Basilica. If you aren’t able to make it to the service, you can still enjoy amazing decorations in St. Peter’s Square. Everybody has seen a nativity scene and a Christmas tree, but not as many have seen them with a classic Romanesque background in the beautiful country of Italy. When in Rome, check out other top things to do. Additionally, the Rome and Vatican pass can help you save money while you're in the area.
Bethlehem is named in the Bible as the city where Jesus Christ was born. From early December to early January, the city comes to life with bright Christmas lights shining above festive holiday markets. The site of Jesus’s birth, the Basilica of the Nativity, is a common place to see Christmas processions from a range of denominations. Please note that since Bethlehem is a part of the Palestinian Authority, you can’t leave your passport in the hotel. You’ll have to show it before entering the city itself.
New York City
Tourists who visit New York City at Christmastime can ice skate under the world's tallest Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. They can also see a performance of “The Nutcracker,” and view Macy’s impressive window displays. Nothing beats walking through Central Park in the snow and seeing the large light show on Saks Fifth Ave. Those looking for a discount can take advantage of the New York City pass to save more than $200 on popular attractions. If it's your first time, check out some tips for visiting New York City.
Santa Claus Village, Finland
Declared the official home of Santa Claus in 1985, this lively village is a great place to catch a glimpse of Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights). More than just a December excursion, this village is open every day of the year. When letters are sent to Santa Claus, they go to the Santa Claus Main Post Office in this town. The village itself sits right on the Arctic Circle, which is marked clearly for the geography fans. For kids and adult believers alike, this place will spark (or reignite) the magic of Christmas.
Christmas markets are a big deal in Bruges, with stalls offering treats, knickknacks, and presents. The two main markets include Markt Square and Simon Stevinplein Square, and along with shopping areas, there are also plenty of ice skating rinks. This country is known for its hot chocolate, so it would be a crime not to indulge in a cup. For those who want to include religion in their trip, the city is home to the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which is apparently the site of a cloth that Joseph used to wipe Jesus’s blood after crucifixion.
Food is at the center of Nuremberg's Christmas market, also called the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt. It offers world-famous gingerbread, grilled sausages, and mulled wine, a warm beverage that contains wine, fruit, sugar, and spices. The stalls are decorated in red and white and offer decorations, nutcrackers, and many other Christmas must-haves.
Bondi Beach, Australia
Australia in December isn’t cold- in fact, it’s warm enough to swim. Even so, the residents find a way to celebrate, touting Santa hats and bathing suits for one of the biggest celebrations of the year. A Christmas tree in the sand and a traditional Australian Christmas BBQ are just a couple of the things you can expect to see on Bondi Beach. It's a party, so it can become pretty wild. Make sure you're prepared for that if you go.
If one thing is for sure, Japan knows their way around lights. From Tokyo Midtown to Roppongi Hills, there is no shortage of amazing and festive displays. Interestingly enough, fried chicken is the most popular food in Japan on Christmas. This is likely due to a 1974 KFC ad campaign that encouraged it. Though Christmas is not a religious holiday in Japan, many celebrate it with the mission of spreading happiness to others, which sounds like a worthy cause in itself.
These cities are amazing when it's not Christmas, so it's certain the pretty lights make them even more stunning. I've been lucky to visit two of these myself around the holidays. If you break tradition and visit one of these cities for Christmas, please let me know in the comments!