It’s December—so we’re officially allowed to talk about Christmas.
I love Christmas. It’s easily my favourite holiday: everyone is intoxicated with the excitement of getting and giving gifts, eggnog appears in the fridge, no one judges you for eating extra stuffing layered in gravy, and the joy and anticipation make the first harsh bite of winter feel a little bit warmer.
I’ve been lucky to experience Christmas in several different places around the world. Sometimes, it hasn’t even felt like the holidays, without snow, crackling fireplaces and gingerbread cookies. But always, it’s been interesting.
Here are five places I’ve spent Christmas around the world:
Many years ago (we’re not going to count) when I was 16, my family took a trip to Disney World to spend Christmas in balmy Florida. Although there were extravagantly decorated trees and holiday themes everywhere, it was my first Christmas with sandy beaches instead of snow.
So I was mesmerized when the sky started pouring white flakes near Cinderella’s Castle! On closer inspection, I discovered they were bubbles. I ended up feeling sick on Christmas Day and stayed in the hotel room. My Christmas dinner? A turkey sandwich from the vending machine. (Travel isn’t always glamorous, you know.)
My first Christmas without my immediate family was spent with my second cousins in Denmark. After exploring the Christmas Markets in Germany, I flew from snowy Norway to rainy Copenhagen.
I asked to go to a church service on Christmas Eve. It was in a stuffy wooden building, and I didn’t understand any of the sermon. Back home that evening, we held hands and danced and sang around the Christmas tree. That evening, we opened all of our presents. Rather than having a Christmas dinner, my Danish relatives celebrate with a large Christmas lunch. I picked at unfamiliar seafood and listened to chatter in a language I don’t speak.
Although I don’t think I’ve ever actually spent Christmas Day in Mexico, it is a popular escape for Canadian snow birds.
I rang in 2014 with my mom in Puerto Vallarta. It was our first holiday without my dad, and it was extremely difficult. But being together and travelling internationally—especially to an ocean-front, colourful destination (with lots of tequila)—made it a little more bearable.
4. The Philippines
I flew to the Philippines with my boyfriend after my semester abroad in South Korea. We had a couple weeks before our next semester in Kamloops, so we decided to travel the islands for as long as possible. It just happened to fall over Christmas.
On Christmas Day, we rented a scooter and rode to Nagtabon Beach. We donned Santa Hats, built a “sandman” and exchanged gifts beneath swaying palm trees and tropical rain.
No matter where I travel, Canada will always be home, and northern Alberta will always be the most natural place to spend Christmas.
Heavy blankets of snow muffle the world. Roaring fires warm quiet homes. My friends and I take a horse-drawn carriage through a spectacular light display, sipping hot chocolate and snuggling beneath wool blankets to fend off the cold.
Christmas is different across Canada, too. Most noticeable in Vancouver is the lack of snow (and abundance of rain). Still, when I’m wrapping presents by a blazing fire and listening to Christmas tunes, it’s easy to let the excitement of the holidays take over—no matter where I am.
Where have you experienced Christmas around the world?
What’s your favourite place to celebrate the holidays?