Christmas is a bright spot on the calendar, but off-limits to international travel as far as many Europeans are concerned.
Traditionally, it’s a time when the world shrinks back to home and hearth. It’s an escape from “normal” life, which revolves around family and good food in whatever form it takes.
But for others, the quiet days between December 25 and New Year’s are the best time to let their wanderlust unleash.
Here are their thoughts and suggestions on how to handle the precious, exhausting, magical and maddening glitter ball of Christmas.
Is it better to keep the traditions or embrace the alternative?
For those used to celebrating Christmas at home, this seems to be the essential question. There is no right answer of course, but there are a whole range of experiences.
Nina Clapperton, a full-time digital nomad from Toronto, has spent the past five Christmases alone and abroad whenever possible.
“I find it’s best to fully immerse yourself in the culture you’re in,” she says. “When I was in New Zealand, I had a fish fry on the beach. In Germany I attended three Christmas markets in a day.”
The 27-year-old blogger still enjoys attending family reunions via FaceTime. His family put a Santa hat on top of the iPad so it could appear in their grandchildren’s photo.
“Christmas is just too much for me. There’s a lot of pressure at big family ceremonies,” adds Nina.
“I also find the notion of ‘having’ to do with traditions claustrophobic. Being able to change it every year, not having expectations and letting me do what I want, not what others want, has been excellent. Finally enjoying Christmas again!
Summer Rylander, a travel writer living in Nuremberg, is another frequent traveler during the holidays. She left with her husband on December 23-25 every year since 2017.
What’s the point of traveling elsewhere if you’re going to spend all your time trying to recreate the feeling of being home for the holidays?
“As far as traditions go, I say embrace the unconventional,” Summer replies. “What’s the point of traveling elsewhere if you’re going to spend all your time trying to recreate the feeling of being home for the holidays? Have fun doing something different!”
Portia Jones, also a travel journalist, spent the big day at Australia before where he “embraced the weirdness of Christmas on the beach over a turkey sandwich.”
That sums up the approach of many holiday makers: reluctant to put the adventure down, but unwilling to leave Christmas completely unmarked.
How to keep the Christmas spirit alive on vacation?
Expats were especially keen to keep more traditional garnishes. Lin De Leeuwerk moved from Kyoto to Bangkok with his family a year ago and they are putting up the same decorations: “the same tiny Christmas tree with the same decorations, the same advent calendar, the same candles!”
Food and drink are key ways to add some festive detail to your day, if you like, creating a little portal back home.
“Music, the smell of freshly baked cookies, gingerbread milk, mulled wine… just like at home in Germany,” recalls Christina Gawe, TV journalist and café owner in Bangkok.
She also loves the “tropical variety” the city has to offer, including mulled wine on ice and bikini-clad gingerbread men and women.
“I connect through the arts,” says Betsy Palmerston, who initially flew to Thailand to escape the cold Toronto winters and ended up staying after COVID hit.
“I sing in a choir that does a super traditional English carol service. I listen to Christmas music at home. I watch all the usual suspect movies.
“And if I really need to feel chilly to get in the holiday spirit, well, there’s always the mall,” she jokes.
Canadian travel writer Mary Chong is drawn to the Caribbean cruises at Christmas and has a tip to make the accommodation more welcoming.
“We’ve seen a lot of cruisers decorate the outside of their cabin doors for vacation,” he explains. “You can easily hang items on the metal door and interior walls with magnetic clips.”
How do different countries celebrate Christmas?
Being a seasoned traveler gives you some fascinating insights into how other countries and cultures do it.
As Thailand is a Buddhist country, Christmas is mostly a commercial affair, with extravagant decorations in shopping malls and festive events in five-star hotels. A resident since 2005, Christina has grown to love the blend of wintery European traditions and the warm Asian version.
Megan Eaves-Egenes, who lives in London, has spent many Christmases abroad, believing it ‘a fabulous way to make use of an otherwise wasted automatic holiday period’.
“I like going to places that don’t have a Western Christian Christmas tradition, so Orthodox or non-Christian, because everything is open,” she says. “Spending Christmas Eve watching the Nutcracker on stage in St. Petersburg remains a life highlight, as does visiting the Hagia Sophia on Christmas Day.”
For some people, traveling to even more festive places is part of the appeal. After watching the “fabulous” prepare for the holiday season while living in both countries, writer Liz Warkentin concludes that “no one celebrates Christmas as well as in Germany and Austria”.
But she also enjoyed learning about new traditions elsewhere. In Colombia, Liz observed Día de las velitas (Day of the Little Candles) on December 7th. People place candles outside their homes in honor of the Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Conception which the Catholic Church dates to the next day.
“He was very cute and really charming,” she recalls.
Everyone who celebrates has their own unique approach to Christmas. And it’s a good time to remember that everyone who travels has their own reasons for doing it, too; a little more goodwill never hurts.