How and where to celebrate a Christmas less ordinary
We love a Mince Pie as much as the next glutton, but not all Christmas traditions carry the same appeal. To take your festive celebrations to the next level this year – and avoid the inevitable festive fallouts about who’s done what to the turkey – it’s worth broadening your horizons with a look at how the rest of the world does it.
Travelling in December has a twofold advantage. First, you neatly sidestep the weeks of tension and drama that accompanies a typical season of festive “fun”. And secondly, you gain insight into ceremonies and rites that other countries hold dear. At the very least, you’ll be able to take a step back from all the madness with a precious slice of escapism. But the change of scene may also trigger a renewed enthusiasm for what Christmas means to you.
From candlelit pageants to elaborate firework displays, here’s how the festive season plays out across the globe – along with the Flash Pack trips that pave the way to a Christmas less ordinary:
Lanterns and lights in Vietnam
Christmas is not a public holiday in Vietnam but you’ll still find festive displays in the major cities – along with the coastal town of Hoi An. Lantern-lit all year round, this lovely hub turns the show up a notch come December, with hundreds of coloured lights lining the banks of Thu Bon river.
Christmas here means magical evening walks, steaming bowls of phở and beach basking in balmy temperatures (minus the humidity of monsoon season). Join Flash Pack over the festive season for dreamy headspace in Hoi An, Halong Bay and Sapa, along with a sunrise pilgrimage to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.
Crafts (and a little fighting) in Peru
Christmas in Peru means elaborate religious parades, nativity scenes and festive pageantry. Much of this takes place on December 24, which (in keeping with most of South America) is “Nochebuena” – the main event of the Christmas calendar.
The Andean city of Cuzco is a good place to immerse yourself in the action, with a vast crafts fair known as Santurantikuy drawing artisans from across the region. In the nearby province of Chumbivilcas, meanwhile, locals settle old scores in a raucous Christmas fighting tradition that involves more than its fair share of drinking and dancing.
Travel with Flash Pack over Christmas to clear your head with biking and cycling in the Inca highlands. Don’t miss festive hot chocolate and panetón, a Peruvian sweet bread loaded with candied fruit.
Ethereal magic in Finland
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Sleigh rides, snow, cosy Lappish kotas: there are few more Christmassy places on earth than Finnish Lapland. Dive right into a winter wonderland on the shores of Lake Torassieppi, complete with snow-laced fir trees, friendly huskies and roaring log fires. The greatest thrill of all is reserved for Mother Nature, and the dancing Northern Lights that light up the sky on a clear winter’s night.
Hop on-board Flash Pack’s escape to the Arctic Circle for cross-country skiing, lunch with local reindeer herders and a twilight snowmobile safari across the frozen wilderness. Yuletide magic guaranteed.
Pomp and spectacle in the Philippines
Christmas is celebrated at full pelt in the Philippines, from the evocative festival of lights in the city of Makati to San Fernando’s giant lantern festival. One lovely tradition to take part in is Simbang Gabi, a series of nine masses that take place daily at dawn on the run-up to December 25.
Beautiful decorations form part of the centuries-old rite, which is typically followed by a family feast featuring dishes such as lechon (a whole charcoal-roasted pig) and puto bumbong (sticky purple rice cakes). Join Flash Pack’s adventure for a taste of Christmas Filipino-style, along with a secret island getaway that takes full advantage of clear blue seas and temperatures nudging into the early 30°Cs.
Candlelit ceremonies in Colombia
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Dios te salve María, LLENA ERES DE GRACIA ?? hoy en Colombia nos reunimos en familia a prender velitas! Velitas de diferentes colores para iluminarle el camino a la Virgencita hacia nuestros hogares. Mañana se celebra el día de la Inmaculada Concepción ❤️ Gracias Santa madre de Dios por interceder siempre por nosotros, por mi familia. Gracias por acompañar y cuidar tanto de mi mamita @rosario_quijano en los últimos meses. Gracias por amarnos tanto.?De parte de mi familia, les deseamos un feliz inicio de la época navideña. Que estos días que vienen sirvan para prepararnos con el fin de recibir a Jesús Nuestro Señor en nuestros corazones ?? #diadelasvelitas #colombia #inmaculadaconcepcion
Christmas in Colombia kicks off with an extravagant fireworks show in the city of Medellín, as part of its Alborada festival: and the celebrations only get bigger from then on in. Expect show-stopping light displays and exuberant family gatherings known as novenas, where food, drink and music come together in a heartwarming gesture of festive goodwill.
Make a note of December 7, where Dia de las Velitas (day of the little candles) sees people line their homes and neighbourhoods with picturesque candle and lantern arrangements, in honour of the Virgin Mary. Flash Pack’s Colombia getaway comes with rum, salsa and a private boat trip around the Caribbean coast, for a suitably warm and balmy December.
Sunshine and party time in South Africa
Warm, dry days reaching upwards of 25°C make for a Christmas that’s rich with the scent of sunshine in South Africa. Carol services and Christmas lights are big business here, but certain traditions come with a climatic twist. If it’s hot enough, families may well gather for an alfresco braai on Christmas Day, along with an afternoon dip in the sea. Office parties, meanwhile, will likely feel more Ibiza beach bash than sweaty pub (and all the better for it).
Hop on-board Flash Pack’s South Africa sojourn for festive past-times of your own: including paddle-boarding, safari drives and wine-tasting in the rolling Stellenbosch hills.
Flowers and pageantry in Mexico
If you’re planning on hitting Mexico at Christmas time, come poised with a gladiator appetite. This country is home to some seriously delicious festive treats, from big stacks of bunuelos (fried pasties) sprinkled with cinnamon sugar to rompope, an eggnog-style drink that often comes with a healthy dash of rum.
It isn’t just about the food, though: you’ll also spot flamboyant nativity scenes (known as “nacimiento”) and children taking part in traditional “posada” processions. Poinsettias are referred to as “nochebuena” (Christmas Eve) flowers in Mexico, and you’ll see them everywhere, along with evergreen and paper lantern displays. Get involved with Flash Pack’s Yucatán Peninsula escape, which also features ancient Mayan wonders and wild swimming in emerald cenotes.
Treasures and tranquility in Jordan
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Jordan is a predominantly Muslim country but Christmas is still celebrated here in a nod to its small Christian community. In the capital Amman, you’ll find Christmas lights along with a festive-themed vintage bazaar, a Christmas tree exhibition and a musical carnival to herald in the season.
Others may prefer to skip the theatrics and instead head directly to the rose red city of Petra. This ancient Nabatean site offers a unique and peaceful way of celebrating Christmas, especially at night, when the age-old facades are lit up in the glow of a sea of candles, alongside atmospheric lights and traditional Bedouin music.
Flash Pack’s Jordan escape takes in the delights of Petra along with Dead Sea bathing, sunrise camel rides and desert canyoning.
Fiestas and família in Brazil
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At this time of the year, Gramado is covered in lights and colors to welcome the “Natal Luz”, a magical event with many shows, parades, musical performances and much more! A memorable season full of spectacles, lights, fantasy and emotion for you to live the magic of Christmas. Happy Holidays! ??✨ #VisitBrasil #LoveBrasil #VisitBrazil ⠀ ?: @marcelafadeli
Família and fiestas are the two great tenets of life in Brazil (along with fútbol) – and both come to the fore in a traditional Brazilian Christmas. Amigo oculto (Secret Santa) is a popular way to navigate gift-giving at huge family gatherings, and effusive firework displays often herald in Christmas itself on 24 and 25 December. Turkey and Italian-inspired panetone are a big fixture in “ceia de Natal” (Christmas dinner).
There are a few concessions to Brazil’s summer climate, though: Papai Noel is thought to wear a silk suit to help him with the heat, Christmas on the beach is popular, and festive desserts often feature tropical fruit with ice-cream. Hop on-board Flash Pack’s Brazil trip for your pre-Yuletide sunshine fix, with beach days and island-hopping around the idyllic town of Paraty.
Top image: Patrick Pellegrini/Unsplash